Moon to Mars: Seeing Progress First-Hand

This week I had the pleasure of visiting NASA facilities in Louisiana and Alabama, where we are developing and manufacturing our powerful Space Launch System (SLS). This rocket will send astronauts aboard our Orion spacecraft to the Gateway under the Artemis program. Our new deep space transportation system is the backbone for lunar surface exploration and will pave the way for human exploration of Mars.

My first stop was NASA’s rocket factory, the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where we’re manufacturing the massive core stage for SLS. The core stage houses the avionics and computers for flight and stores the systems and fuel that will feed the rocket’s engines.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine talks to media and employees at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans Aug. 15, 2019, about progress on the agency’s Space Launch System rocket and the Artemis program.

It’s one thing to talk about progress, but another to see real flight hardware in person. The current unfinished SLS core stage is around 190-feet-long. And wow, is it impressive to see up close. Soon, its assembly will be complete and it will be a staggering 212 feet high, with a diameter of more than 27 feet.

Media saw both flight and test hardware, and we discussed the significant progress made to the core stage for the Artemis 1 mission. When we finish adding the last section, the engine section and the four RS-25 engines later this year, we’ll be ready for the green run test. After that, the first SLS will be shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for integration with Orion and their first flight test around the Moon. Our launch date remains under review for this mission while we search for new leaders in our human spaceflight programs, but every day of progress brings us one more day closer to launch.

During our tour at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, I was joined by U.S. Representatives Mo Brooks and Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee. At this stop, I announced this center, working with future commercial partners and experts from other centers, will lead development of a new Human Landing System Program. Staged from the Gateway in lunar orbit, this system will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.

On Aug. 16, 2019, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will lead the Human Landing System Program. Bridenstine was joined by Representatives Mo Brooks and Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Representative Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee. The announcement was made in front of the 149-foot-tall SLS liquid hydrogen structural test article, currently being tested to help ensure the structure can safely launch astronauts on the Artemis lunar missions.

We focus on a ‘One NASA’ integrated approach that uses technical capabilities across many centers. Marshall has the right combination of expertise and experience to accomplish this critical piece of the mission, with support from other centers. NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for example, manages other human spaceflight programs for deep space including the Gateway and Orion, but our Artemis program and Mars goals wouldn’t be possible without each of our centers providing their unique capabilities to the effort.

Our SLS, Orion, and human landing system progress are important to accelerating our return to the Moon. As is development of the first phase of the Gateway. As you may know, we awarded a contract to Maxar Technologies to design, develop, launch and demonstrate the power and propulsion element by 2022, which is managed out of NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio. We are also working to develop another module of the Gateway, the habitation and logistics outpost (HALO), which NASA Johnson will work with a commercial partner to design and develop.

Following feedback from industry on our draft human lander solicitation, which closed earlier this month, we are targeting a formal request for lander proposals by the end of summer, and targeting awards by the end of this year to design, develop and demonstrate this system.

Finally, we will also release a solicitation for American companies to deliver supplies to the lunar outpost that support the 2024 Moon landing, and supplies for future sustainable lunar exploration. The logistics efforts will be led out of NASA Kennedy, which as I mentioned before, is where we launch SLS and Orion from a modernized spaceport on Artemis missions to deep space.

I’m incredibly proud of our teams at Marshall, Michoud, and all across the agency, on their response to the President’s call to quickly return to the Moon. I know our workforce can meet all the technical challenges of this bold goal.

As for my part, I will continue to work with all of our stakeholders, including you, the American public, on securing confidence and the $1.6 billion investment we need for a successful Artemis program.

Again, I had a great visit to Louisiana and Alabama this week. I especially appreciated the support shown by our representatives in Congress. NASA is going forward to the Moon, and getting ready for our next giant leap – Mars. This is an incredible time in human spaceflight, and we are proud to once again be leading the way.