US space agency director Jim Bridenstein and Human Spaceflight Director Kathy Leuders featured heavily in a 21 September 2020 session that turned mainly around bolstering public interest in NASA’s headline human lunar exploration program, even as they were unable to answer detailed mission design questions that have been delegated to contractors.
The session highlighted a new NASA white paper on the Artemis program intended to be the centrepiece for budget hearings before the US Senate. After hitting a roadbump in the House, NASA still hopes to convince the Senate and congressional leaders that lunar exploration is bipartisan cause that is well worth something close to its final budget, even though a gridlocked US Capitol preoccupied with an imminent election (to say nothing of other recent issues) is the textbook scenario for passage of a continuing resolution, which extends last year’s federal budget until a final deal can be reached.
Details on just what the plan is for the Artemis lunar landing, however, remained scarce. Kathy Leuders, the main NASA officer in charge of getting astronauts to the Moon, deferred questions about certain mission details, such as whether or not Artemis III would rendezvous with the Lunar Gateway. This was characterized as an optional decision within the scope of the HLS final proposals, which NASA has not yet received, though Bridenstein suggests that part of the Lunar Gateway will be in place by that time.
Landing Artemis III on the Moon by 2024 is possible, according to Bridenstein, but it will take more funding than a continuing resolution or the approximately 600 M$ proposed for HLS by the House of Representatives. NASA’s proposed budget would spend 3.2 G$ on HLS, to support all three ongoing efforts from Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX. Leuders said that without a confirmed budget by February or March 2021, NASA won’t be able to keep its end of the deal with HLS contractors, and the Artemis III mission will miss any chance of a 2024 landing date.