HOUSTON - NASA announced a development Thursday afternoon in the Artemis program's lunar exploration plans.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called this the Artemis Generation, breaking down the United States' historic plan to go to the moon and then to Mars. NASA announced the major company that will start developing one of the key components to the mission.
"We are going to the moon to stay. Here's how," Bridenstine said. "We are moving very fast. We have a new directive to get the next man and the first woman on the south pole of the moon in 2024."
With President Donald Trump's commitment to allocate an additional $1.6 billion to take humans back to the moon four years earlier than expected, NASA is answering the call. The mission to the moon and Mars has been named Artemis -- Apollo's twin sister.
"This all starts with the ability to get heavier payloads off-planet and beyond earth's gravity," Bridenstine said.
A diverse group of astronauts would board NASA's Orion capsule, launching commercially atop the space launch system, or SLS, that would be the world's most powerful rocket.
The next stop would be home base -- "The Gateway," 250,000 miles from Earth in what would be the first orbiting lunar outpost, a mobile living quarters the size of a studio apartment balancing between Earth's and the moon's gravity.
"Instead of NASA purchasing, owning and operating the systems as we have done traditionally, in many cases we are going to be able to buy services from commercial companies that have customers that are not NASA, and that's good for us because we're going to focus your tax dollars on the things only NASA can do," Bridenstine said.
The steadfast values of the mission are sustainability and collaboration between the commercial sector and an international coalition. The Gateway will be built with three parts. The first is the power and propulsion element. NASA on Thursday granted Colorado-based Maxar Technologies the contract to build it.
"We cannot achieve this objective if we do not bring everybody together under one umbrella," Bridenstine said.
The experiments will involve everything from small cargo missions to exploring the moon's hundreds of millions of tons of recently discovered "water ice."
"That means there's life support. We're talking about air to breathe. We're talking about water to drink, but even better we're talking about rocket fuel," Bridenstine said.
It's the science and technology NASA will test and replicate to get to Mars.
Meanwhile, NASA isn't the only one vying for the moon and Mars.
Private companies, including Blue Origin and SpaceX, are continuing their own initiatives to get there. It is a race to space with decades of commitment to development. For NASA, it is a welcomed challenge, re-igniting energy and excitement here in Houston, a city that is no stranger to space.
Officials say that from now until 2023 the focus of the Artemis program will be on development.
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