Sept. 22 (UPI) — NASA has released new details of its Artemis project to send astronauts to the surface of the moon by 2024, including the cost of its first phase — $28 billion.
In an update provided by the space agency Monday, the administrators said $16.2 billion of the total would be to produce the initial Human Landing System — the new-generation moon landers which would carry astronauts to the lunar surface.
If successful, the mission would mark mankind’s first landing on the lunar surface since 1972, as well as the first woman to walk on the moon.
Also for the first time, the landing site and base camp of the moon mission was revealed as a spot at the lunar South Pole near Shackleton Crater.
The 2024 target is four years earlier than NASA originally planned but it has moved quickly to meet a challenge issued by Vice President Mike Pence, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein said.
“With bipartisan support from Congress, our 21st century push to the moon is well within America’s reach,” he said in a statement. “As we’ve solidified more of our exploration plans in recent months, we’ve continued to refine our budget and architecture.”
Artemis’ main goals, he said, include “scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new generation of explorers. As we build up a sustainable presence, we’re also building momentum toward those first human steps on [Mars].”
The first phase of the Artemis program includes three flights to the moon: an unmanned test flight next year, a piloted circling of the moon in 2023 and the actual moon landing the following year.
Bridenstine told reporters the 2024 target date, however, is dependent on a requested $3.2 billion for lander development as part of NASA’s fiscal 2021 budget.
“It is critically important that we get that $3.2 billion,” he said. “And I think that if we can have that done before Christmas, we’re still on track for a 2024 moon landing.”
But, he warned, if the lander is not fully funded by March, “it becomes increasingly more difficult.”