NASA held an industry day for its plan for a commercial return to the moon [VIDEO], meeting with a group of interested companies. The space agency related its thoughts about what it would like for business services to the moon. In return, it solicited ideas from the commercial sector about a draft of a Request for Proposals (RFP). The final RFP will be issued on July 19, 2018. Companies will be required to respond 30 days later. NASA will release contracts for the next five years on December 31, 2018. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine [VIDEO]addressed the assembled industry partners, announcing that “this won’t be Lucy and the football again.” Just to buttress the administrator’s sentiment, the draft of the bill that funds NASA by the House Appropriations Committee fully supports the lunar program.

A different way to go back to the moon

The attending space companies were asked for proposals for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program, the first phase of the commercial return to the moon. Companies will send payloads of up to about 100 kilograms to the lunar surface, including instruments and rovers. NASA is still in the process of what kind of science it would like to study, but the emphasis seems to be on prospecting lunar resources that will be useful for future moon settlers and miners. NASA wants all of the commercial landers to have laser retroreflectors similar to ones left at each Apollo landing site. Scientists on Earth will shoot lasers at the reflectors so that they can precisely measure the distance between the Earth and the moon. The program will be administrated by the Johnson Spaceflight Center.

Jim Bridenstine promises that this time we’re going back to the moon

Administrator Bridenstine addressed the industry representatives and discussed how previous attempts to go back to the moon. President George H. W. Bush’s Space Exploration Initiative and President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration failed because of politics. His reference to the famous Peanuts trope was the money quote of the day.

Bridenstine noted that a number of developments point the way to the third time being the charm. These include the miniaturization of electronics, the decrease in launch costs due to commercial competition, the promise of private-public partnerships for lunar missions, and new contracting rules (i.e., fixed price rather than traditional cost-plus.)

Congress responds generously

Just to illustrate Bridenstine’s promise that this time the return to the moon is really happening, the House Appropriations Committee released a draft FY2019 spending bill that gives NASA a generous boost in spending. Various aspects of the lunar return, including the commercial return to the moon, are fully funded. Everything seems to point to that this time, at long last, America is headed back to the moon.