NASA is still working to get the Space Launch System (SLS) ready to fly on its first demo flight, but the first real SLS mission will be to send humans back to the moon. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has suggested that NASA may reevaluate its proposed landing zone for the Artemis moon mission. Rather than heading to the south pole, the mission might pay a visit to Apollo sites from the 60s and 70s.
During a recent web broadcast from the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG), Bridenstine discussed the agency’s latest plans for Artemis. Officially, the mission is still planned for a polar landing. However, Bridenstine mused on the possibility of an equatorial mission. That is, of course, the region in which all the Apollo missions landed. It’s easier to land in that region as spacecraft’s don’t need to burn fuel to enter a polar orbit before touching down.
NASA decided on the polar landing because there’s a lot of science you can do there. The added difficulty of that mission could lead to changes, according to Bridenstine. Revisiting the Apollo sites might be a good alternative in the event NASA determines the south pole landing is too challenging fo Artemis 3, which is set to be the first crewed landing of the program. “There could be scientific discoveries there and, of course, just the inspiration of going back to an original Apollo site would be pretty amazing as well,” Bridenstine said.
What the SLS will look like upon completion.
Bridenstine clarified that NASA hasn’t made any decisions about delaying its polar landing, but it’s interesting he’d bring up this possibility. NASA officials have since noted that the priority is still to identify a polar landing site.
The Artemis program will kick off with an uncrewed demo launch in 2021. This will be the first flight for the SLS, which has been in development for almost a decade at a cost of $18.6 billion. NASA expects to spend about $2 billion on each launch because the rocket is not reusable. The Orion command module is further along in development, having already completed some flight testing. There’s even talk of using commercial rockets with Orion if the SLS isn’t ready in time. Perhaps SLS delays have something to do with Bridenstine’s promotion of an equatorial landing.