Artist's illustration of astronauts working on the Moon. Image: NASA
As the coronavirus rages, NASA is making strides toward its ambitious goal to launch astronauts to the surface of the Moon in the next four years.
The big picture: NASA's 2024 Artemis Moon mission is the Trump administration's tentpole civil space policy expected to challenge geopolitical rivals like China for supremacy in space.
- "It's important that this agency do this now, because our country — and in fact the whole world — has been shaken by this coronavirus pandemic," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a press conference last week. "And yet, we need to give people hope."
What's happening: NASA last week announced it is awarding three companies millions of dollars to continue work to build human lander systems expected to bring people to the Moon's surface.
- SpaceX, Dynetics and a team put together by Blue Origin will now work to refine their lander ideas over the coming months before NASA funds one or more of the ideas ahead of the 2024 landing.
Yes, but: While certain parts of the Artemis program are moving ahead, other parts of the space agency's plans have been put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak.
- NASA's building and development of its Space Launch System rocket have been largely paused due to the pandemic, potentially delaying the first flight of the long-delayed heavy-lift rocket the agency intends to use for its moonshot.
- NASA also recently announced the agency will push off efforts to build its small Gateway space station in orbit around the Moon before the 2024 landing in favor of going directly to the surface for the first landing instead.
- Members of the House Science Committee have also criticized the fact that the space agency is outsourcing the building of a lunar lander to these companies instead of building a bespoke system in-house, potentially spelling trouble for political support of the program going forward.