On Wednesday afternoon in Washington, DC, a little-known United States House of Representatives subcommittee is set to take a first consequential step that could throw the Trump administration’s plan to land astronauts on the moon in 2024 – and the aerospace companies that have been developing lunar landing systems – into turmoil.
The US House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics’ Chair, Representative Kendra Horn (a Democrat), told Al Jazeera that not only has the ranking member, Representative Brian Babin (a Republican and a strong supporter of the administration), cosponsored the bill with her, but that it is in direct response to “repeated requests” made by her subcommittee and others to NASA that have gone unanswered.
“We have yet to receive a detailed plan and cost estimates that show us a pathway from here to 2024. And those things are required,” Horn told Al Jazeera.
She asserted that the bill, HR 5666, or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2020, “gives certainty and clarity to NASA and helps assure that there is a sustainable pathway, especially in the exploration section. It is responsible for taking care of our taxpayers’ investment.”
In its essence, the legislation scraps the administration’s Artemis Program as it was unveiled in May and its key policy to buy commercially provided and maintained lunar landing services, as a foundation for a human Mars mission in the 2030s. In its place, the committee proposes focusing NASA’s human exploration efforts on a simplified Mars mission that would necessarily rely heavily on a single contractor – Boeing.
Additionally, the bill would push any lunar landing back to 2028. China intends to send its citizens to the moon in 2025, with Russia promising to do the same by 2030.
Industrial gnashing of teeth
Reaction to the proposed bill has been swift.
The bipartisan bill’s introduction has come weeks, possibly just days, before many expect NASA to announce partnerships with possibly three aerospace companies to develop a lunar human landing system (HLS). The coveted 10-month contracts should be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, with the potential of future deals being worth billions.