Recently Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma, opened his mind about the necessity of returning to the moon on his congressional blog. His reasoning will be familiar with people who have delved into the issue. Essentially, the water ice that resides at the lunar poles, as well as other valuable minerals, makes the moon valuable real estate to visit and to commercially exploit. Also, the Chinese are keen to go to the moon, and since Beijing is a potentially hostile power, it behooves the United States and its allies to do the same.
One interesting section of Bridenstine’s blog post reads thus:
“Fortunately, the #Space Launch System and Orion are close to being developed and will start testing in 2018. This system, with a commercial lander, could quickly place machines and robots on the moon to begin the cis-lunar economy. With the right presidential guidance, humans could return in short order as well…this time, to stay.”
One of the debates taking place about the future of #NASA supposes that two warring factions exist.
One would handle space exploration the way it has always been done, the same as Apollo, the space shuttle, and the International Space Station. The approach is NASA-centric, takes a lot of money, and a lot of time. The Space Launch System and the Orion is a product of that approach, large and expensive to build and operate.
The other faction would scrap the Orion and the SLS when they are on the point of having flight hardware made for commercially built rockets, such as the SpaceX Falcon Heavy and the future Blue Origin New Glenn and New Armstrong. The model for this approach is the commercial crew program in which NASA has paid for the development of privately operated and owned spacecraft to send astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit.
It looks like Bridenstine, a favorite of the commercial space faction, is not going to get rid of the SLS and Orion, but will commercially procure lunar landers and other hardware. In effect, he proposes a hybrid approach to lunar exploration. The purist of both of the factions may turn on him as a result, but Bridenstine has the potential to bring most of them together.
Bridenstine is on the top of the short list to be Donald Trump’s NASA administrator. Therefore his opinion on a return to the moon and how it can be done will carry considerable weight.