With #NASA considering putting astronauts on the first Orion spacecraft to be lobbed around the moon by a heavy lift #space launch system and Elon Musk claiming that he has two customers willing to pay for the thrill of going around the moon on board a Dragon launched by a Falcon Heavy, a potential new lunar race may have developed. Ars Technica is pretty sure that Musk’s announcement is a direct shot across the bows of the space agency. The theory is that if SpaceX can do a lunar mission cheaper than NASA can, why not scrap the Orion and Space Launch System entirely and outsource a return to the moon.

Naturally a #Reality Check is involved concerning both lunar schemes.

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To be sure, racing ahead and putting astronauts around the moon years early would be technically feasible for NASA. But space agency officials, even before the feasibility study is completed, have suggested that the scheme will take more money and a greater acceptance of risk, the latter of which can be modified by testing crew escape systems before launching the mission. The Trump administration and Congress will have to come up with the money. NASA will have to modify its safety culture to deal with more risk, and the White House will have to have the space agency’s back should the worst happen.

SpaceX, on the other hand, has made big promises of space milestones before, only to see them recede into the future. The Falcon Heavy, which may finally launch this summer, has been delayed for years.

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The Red Dragon mission, which would land a spacecraft on Mars, has already been pushed back from 2018 to 2020. Will the SpaceX lunar mission actually occur next year? There are not a lot of people outside of the company who are willing to put money on the proposition.

So, a stampede to scrap the expensive Orion/SLS system for Musk’s scheme is not likely to happen. Congress, no matter what happens, is likely to take a dim view of eliminating a second rocket development program in less than a decade. So, America may have at least two cis-lunar transportation systems, and that is even before Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos weighs in with the New Glenn and New Armstrong rockets and ULA with the reusable Vulcan.