The NASA facility that built the rocket that carried astronauts on the Apollo missions to the Moon will play a key role in sending the first woman and the next man to the Moon’s surface in 2024.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama will lead the Human Landing System Program, and lead the development of a vehicle that will land astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972.
“Marshall Space Flight Center is the birthplace of America’s space program. It was Marshall scientists and engineers who designed, built, tested, and helped launch the giant Saturn V rocket that carried astronauts on the Apollo missions to the Moon,” U.S. Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama said. “Marshall has unique capabilities and expertise not found at other NASA centers. I’m pleased NASA has chosen Marshall to spearhead a key component of America’s return to the Moon and usher in the Artemis era.”
Under the lunar exploration program Artemis, NASA aims to land American astronauts, including the first woman and the next man, on the Moon by 2024, and use what they learn on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.
While Hunstville, Alabama, known as “Rocket City,” celebrates the announcement, one city is definitely disappointed. Houston, Texas, home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center was also in the running to lead the development of the lander.
Before the formal announcement, Texas legislators including Senator Ted Cruz had written an open letter to Bridenstine pushing for the agency to award the lunar lander program to the Johnson Space Center.
In the letter, the lawmakers wrote: “The Johnson Space Center has served as NASA’s lead center for human spaceflight for more than half a century. […] ‘Houston’ was one of the first words ever uttered on the Moon, and Houston, the city that last sent man to the Moon, should be where the lander that will once again send Americans to the lunar surface is developed. Accordingly, we request that you reconsider this decision, and hold off on any formal announcements until we can receive a briefing on this matter that includes the timeline, projected cost, and rationale for this decision.”
In response, Bridenstine pointed out that of 363 jobs associated with the lander, 140 would be based at Huntsville, while 87 would be at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“Johnson Space Center, when it comes to human-machine interface, all the great capabilities that they have throughout time, with the astronaut corps being headquartered there, there’s going to be lots of opportunity for them,” Bridenstine said.
Johnson Space Center, which manages major NASA human spaceflight programs including the Gateway, Orion, Commercial Crew and International Space Station, will oversee all aspects related to preparing the landers and astronauts to work together, according to a NASA press release. Johnson also will manage all Artemis missions, beginning with Artemis 1, the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems.
NASA recently issued a draft solicitation and requested comments from American companies interested in providing an integrated human landing system – a precursor to the final solicitation targeted for release in the coming months.
The agency’s human lunar exploration plans are based on a two-phase approach: the first is focused on speed – landing on the Moon within five years, while the second will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028.s