What was one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind is soon going to turn into a footprint unlike anything we ever imagined. Just one thing. It’s taking longer than we impatient Earthlings thought it would.
So why did Apollo 11 blast off only seven years after president John F. Kennedy’s iconic speech insisting American footprints would be the first on the moon, but NASA’s upcoming mission is still grounded? NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine believes that if we want to level up, technological advances that could have never happened in 1969 are going to take more time to bring to life.
"What we're doing now is entirely different than what we did back then," Bridenstine explained during a recent Senate subcommittee hearing. "The Apollo missions carried 12 humans to the moon, but that was pretty much it. And then we came home, and we haven't been back since."
Bridenstine also said he prefers to see this future moon landing as less of a “return” and more of an effort “to go forward to the moon, sustainably.” NASA wants to facilitate lunar landings by building the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, whose six-day elliptical orbit around Earth will give both robotic and human missions much easier access to our satellite.
In an earlier conference with members of the current administration, the administrator highlighted the importance of the Gateway in being the launchpad for the heavier landers we will need if to fly rovers and eventually humans to the moon. Something Bridenstine is especially interested in exploring is the possibly billions of tons of untapped water ice on the lunar surface — something no one knew about until 2009.
“That presents an opportunity for us to learn more about the moon that we’ve ever learned before because we’re going to go to the surface and we’re going to prospect,” Bridenstine said.
Moon water would not only be a key resource for astronauts exploring and possibly living on the moon, but also as fuel for Mars missions if we are able to split H2O molecules into hydrogen and oxygen on a large enough scale by the time NASA is ready to put boots on the Red Planet. But we’re going to need heavier landers for that. Such landers will not just be able to carry instruments, rovers, and yes — humans.
While another moon landing may not happen for a while, when it does, it’s going to be one epic leap for mankind.
Rumors about the International Space Station becoming space junk after 2024 were also taken down at this conference, with Bridenstine confirming that NASA would transition ownership of the ISS to commercial entities. So, it's going to see some changes, but it's not going anywhere.