NASA has planned on returning to the Moon for some time now, hashing out plans for its Lunar Gateway which will eventually serve as a jumping-off point for travelers headed to the Moon’s surface. Then, back in March, the current presidential administration decided it wanted NASA to complete a return to the Moon as soon as possible, offering a mere five years to complete the task.
The request was, to put it bluntly, absurd. NASA doesn’t have the funding to pull it off, and even if it did it would require a truly monumental effort to meet the arbitrary deadline. Despite this, Trump-appointed NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine eagerly accepted the “challenge,” and while everyone waits to see whether lawmakers will provide enough cash for a Moon 2024 mission to be possible, NASA just launched a hype video of sorts to assure everyone that a 2024 Moon mission is definitely, totally happening.
The video emphasizes the collaborative efforts of NASA and its international partners, which is a good thing since there’s no way the United States would be able to pull off the Gateway without help from just about everyone.
What’s so interesting about this whole thing — aside from the fact that a million hurdles stand between NASA and a Moon mission in 2024 — is that when Trump sent Pence to deliver the new directive to NASA back in March, he did so while dismissing the efforts of many of NASA’s key allies and emphasizing the need for the U.S. to be the superior space power.
Now, NASA’s hype video plays up collaboration and, presumably, was made to drum up some support for the mission among those who have influence in approving the funding NASA needs to make it a reality.
Could NASA pull off the Moon 2024 mission? Absolutely, but the most important factors in whether it will even have the chance (like funding) are almost entirely out of its control. If the mission falls through it likely won’t be because of a shortcoming on NASA’s part, but because the demand was never realistic in the first place.
The Lunar Gateway will be built, that much is certain. Whether it’s built in time for the Moon 2024 mission, and whether that mission ever even comes close to happening at all, remains to be seen.