NASA is drawing up a long checklist for the lunar 2024 project

Posted Jul 19, 2019 by Tim Sandle
The next mission to the Moon is on and a new team of astronauts are set to touch down on the lunar surface in 2024. With the date announced, how ready is NASA? Some commentators are wondering if the announcement is premature.
Artist s conception of Moon Express s MX-1 lander on the surface of the moon.
Artist's conception of Moon Express's MX-1 lander on the surface of the moon.
Fifty years on from the first Moon landing, NASA has declared (with a nudge from the White House) that a new space mission will occur with a lunar landing scheduled for 2024 - called Artemis. While many are excited about the prospect of seeing humans walking across the dusty lunar surface, there are concerns about the number of activities that NASA will need to complete in order to make this idea a reality.
Included among NASA's 'to do' list is constructing the technology and hardware needed for a successful mission. The Saturn V rocket booster, for example, which was used between 1967 and 1973 remains tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever used. Coming up with something equivalent will take large resources, scientific knowledge, and cost. And that's just for the taking the payload off the Earth's surface.
One reason why NASA is not at a particularly advanced stage for its lunar mission is because, by law, NASA is only permitted work on projects approved by Congress and directed by the U.S. President. Prior May 2019, there was no approved program to go to the Moon in any near time frame. In May 2019, the moon landing project was set for 2028. Keen to include a new Moon landing as part of his legacy (should he secure a second term), President Trump has pulled things forward.
It also stands that NASA will need additional funding. To make Artemis (named after the Greek goddess of hunting,) a reality, $1.6 billion in additional funding is likely to be required. This is based on revised cost estimates for the Space Launch System, which is the rocket that will take off, and for the Orion capsule, which will carry the astronauts. This additional sum has still has to be approved by Congress.
Despite the pressures, Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of commercial civil space at Lockheed Martin Space (who are building Orion for NASA) remains confident: "This approach delivers an earlier landing capability featuring reusable technology that also lays a foundation for a future expanded, sustainable human presence at the moon. This is an aggressive but achievable schedule."
The first step will be a test of the Space Launch System. This is scheduled for 2020, when the rocket will send Orion on an uncrewed test flight around the Moon, an endeavor coded Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1).
The significance of the Moon landing is not just to step-down again onto the lunar surface. The Space Launch System will be the most powerful rocket ever and it testing the technology out is key to the eventual construction of the Lunar Gateway, which will be the stepping stone for getting humans to Mars.