Image Credit: NASA

The president directed NASA to land American astronauts on the Moon by 2024, and the agency is working to accelerate humanity’s return to the lunar surface by all means necessary.

“We’ve been given an ambitious and exciting goal. History has proven when we’re given a task by the president, along with the resources and the tools, we can deliver,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We are committed to making this happen. We have the people to achieve it. Now, we just need bipartisan support and the resources to get this done.”

Bridenstine confirmed at the 35th Space Symposium on April 9, 2019, that the agency’s proposed human lunar landing system architecture remains the plan to return crew to the surface as quickly as possible. The human lunar lander will be a public-private partnership working directly with American companies to expedite the return of Astronauts to the Moon’s surface by 2024. The South Pole continues to be the target of our exploration.

In order to best accomplish our goals in the next five years, NASA is now going forward to the Moon in two phases.

“First, we are focused on speed to land the next man, and first woman, on the Moon by 2024. Second, we will establish sustainable missions by 2028. To do that, we need our powerful Space Launch System to put the mass of reusable systems into deep space,” he said.


Both phases rely on the Gateway, which will serve as a reusable command and service module in lunar orbit. Initial development for the lunar outpost calls for a power and propulsion element plus a habitation capability to support access to the surface. 

“The Gateway can be positioned in a variety of orbits around the Moon, allows for access to entire lunar surface, and supports development of a reusable human lander system,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. “Resiliency and reusability are key for sustainable human lunar exploration, and that’s what the Gateway gives us. Furthermore, there’s broad interest from the international community for supporting as well.”

This is how the human lunar lander system would operate from the Gateway:

  • A transfer element drives the combined ascent and descent elements with crew inside the ascent element from the Gateway to low-lunar orbit.
  • From that orbit, crew will use the descent element to land on the surface.
  • When astronauts complete their expedition, they take the ascent element back up to the Gateway

During lunar expeditions, a team of crew members will remain aboard the Gateway for scientific investigations while a separate team will explore the surface. All crew members ultimately board the Orion spacecraft for a return to Earth.

NASA is already working with U.S. industry to study a transfer element, descent element and refueling systems for use with the lunar Gateway, and begin early development work. A similar request for the ascent element was accelerated to meet the new direction, and a synopsis was issued April 8 to industry. A formal request for proposals will be released in the near future.


NASA will soon begin sending science and technology investigations to the lunar surface through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS). By the time NASA sends crew to the Moon, many CLPS deliveries will be complete, with the first one happening by the end of this year if a commercial lander is ready.

“Using new landers, robots and eventually humans, we will conduct science and technology demonstrations across the entire lunar surface of the Moon to learn more about resources on the Moon and how we can use them for future exploration,” said Bridenstine. “We will move forward to the Moon, this time to stay. And then we’ll take what we learn on the Moon, and go to Mars.”

The president’s direction from Space Policy Directive-1 galvanizes NASA’s return to the Moon and builds on progress on the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, collaborations with U.S industry and international partners, and knowledge gained from current robotic assets at the Moon and Mars.

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