A subcommittee of the House Science Committee has introduced an authorization bill that would drastically alter NASA’s plans to return to the Moon.
Introduced by Representative Kendra Horn, chair of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, H.R. 5666 outlines a new direction for NASA’s Artemis program. The bill advocates pushing the first crewed mission to the surface of the Moon to 2028 and introducing the goal of sending a crewed mission to orbit Mars by 2033.
In addition to shifting the focus of the Artemis program, the bill also outline’s a number of revisions to key infrastructure goals.
Currently, NASA is utilizing the Human Landing System program that has solicited bids from commercial partners to develop lunar landers. The agency would then purchase landing services from these partners. Under H.R. 5666, NASA would be required to have “full ownership” of a Lunar lander, the development of which would likely go to a single contractor.
Additionally, the bill directs the agency to develop the lander as an integrated system “carried on an Exploration Upper Stage-enhanced Space Launch System,” an upgraded version of the agency’s SLS rocket. This strategy bears a striking resemblance to one proposed by Boeing.
Another major infrastructural shift the bill outlines is in the use of the Gateway space station. NASA currently plans to construct a small space station in lunar orbit. The station would be used to stage missions to the surface of the Moon. Under the bill, the station would be used instead as a “Gateway to Mars” and could be based elsewhere in cislunar space.
Apart from infrastructural shifts, the bill also strips the Artemis program’s goal of building a sustained presence on the lunar surface. In addition to requiring “the minimum set of human and robotic lunar surface activities that must be completed to enable a human mission to Mars”, the bill has also deemphasized plans to utilise resources like ice found on the lunar surface.
H.R. 5666 is currently scheduled to be marked by the space subcommittee on January 29. It will then go before the full House where it will have to be compared against a Senate bill introduced in November. The Senate bill advocates a direction more closely following that set out by NASA leadership. It is, as a result, still unclear what direction Artemis will take and with just four years until the original 2024 deadline, time is running out.