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article imageNASA to go forward with 'Gateway' at expense of telescope

By Karen Graham     Mar 16, 2018 in Technology
NASA is pressing forward on plans to build a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), an outpost for astronauts positioned in the space near Earth's moon, after getting a green light from the White House.
The Trump administration is now proposing to formally begin a cislunar space station program. This would entail beginning assembly early in the next decade with the launch of the first element in the project in 2022. The term "cislunar" refers to the region between Earth and the Moon.
The first part of the project, the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) is the core module of the station, now renamed the “Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway” (LOP-G). The PPE was originally scheduled to be launched as a secondary payload on Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2), which is currently planned to be the first crewed Orion spacecraft mission launch on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
Artist s conception of Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway
Artist's conception of Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway
The change in the EM-2 manifest has forced NASA officials to reevaluate the mission, including the agency's aspirations of flying the Habitation module on a more ambitious flight for Orion’s first crew. And while some parts of the LOP-G program, such as PPE, had been previously funded in Advanced Exploration Systems (AES), the president is giving it a "new funding line" in the 2019 budget request,
The White House’s $19.9 billion NASA budget is not a sure thing, based on previous budget proposals to go before Congress. Both houses of Congress will draft appropriations bills, which will include funding for NASA, but in recent years few of those bills have been approved.
Usually, a series of Continuing Resolutions are passed which fund only programs previously authorized. And this means that if the 2019 budget ends up partially or fully funded through Continuing Resolutions, the status of the LOP-G as a whole and the PPE more specifically would remain uncertain.
The Yutu rover rolled onto the lunar surface on 14 December at 20:35 UT (15 December 04:35 a.m. BJST...
The Yutu rover rolled onto the lunar surface on 14 December at 20:35 UT (15 December 04:35 a.m. BJST).
Not everyone is thrilled with NASA's LOP-G program
In December 2017, President Trump directed NASA to send Americans to the Moon for the first time since 1972, in order to prepare for future trips to Mars, according to Digital Journal.
"This time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint," Trump said at a White House ceremony as he signed the new space policy directive. "We will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps someday to many worlds beyond." However, his directive left out the most thorny and divisive parts of space exploration - budgets and timelines.
However, Robert Zubrin, the president of Colorado-based Pioneer Astronautics, and founder and president of the public advocacy group, the Mars Society, wrote an Op-Ed about the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway plan, labeling the Gateway as a "boondoggle" that has a price tag of several tens of billions of dollars, at the least, and serves no useful purpose.
"We do not need a lunar-orbiting station to go to the moon, or to Mars, or to near-Earth asteroids. We do not need it to go anywhere," Zubrin said.
There is nothing worth doing in lunar orbit, nothing to use, and nothing to explore," Zubrin said. "It is true that one could operate rovers on the lunar surface from orbit, but the argument that it is worth the expense of such a station in order to eliminate the two-second time delay involved in controlling them from Earth is absurd."
The Hubble Space Telescope as seen from the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
The Hubble Space Telescope as seen from the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
The demise of the WFIRST astrophysics mission
While Mr. Zubrin certainly makes several good points in decrying the waste of money on the Gateway, perhaps even more concerning is the trashing of one of NASA's top priority astrophysics missions for the coming decade - the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, WFIRST, a successor to the Hubble telescope.
WFIRST was planned as the next space observatory in line after the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is scheduled to launch sometime in the first part of 2019. In 2010, the U.S. National Research Council Decadal Survey placed a top priority on the development of WFIRST, which moved from design study to formal development just last year, according to Sky & Telescope.
While the JWST appears to be safe for now, the 2019 budget looks to shut down WFIRST in favor of an unnamed "smaller principal investigator-led, astrophysics missions," White House officials wrote in the budget proposal document. The budget request states “these (smaller) missions have a history of providing high scientific impact while training the next generation of scientists and engineers.”
More about NASA, cislunal space station, LOPG, Technology, WFIRST
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