The Space Race started in the 1950s as the US and former USSR began trying to out-develop the other in terms of satellite and spaceflight capabilities. The contest initially worked toward the goal of landing a man on the moon. America achieved that in 1969 with Apollo 11. A seemingly blessed period when the moon felt so close to Earth ended on 1972 with Apollo 17. Since then, space missions of all capable countries were restricted to satellites, stays at space stations, and the occasional extra-planetary probe. NASA has not been geared to even attempt a new lunar mission until a statement from the US Vice President had them scrambling.
It began, according to The Verge, one week earlier when American VP Mike Pence at the 5th meeting of the US National Space Council which he chairs. He declared that NASA would return man to the moon five years from now (2024), or 52 years since anyone has been there last. This has spurred the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to begin figuring out a budget to make that a reality. This falls in line with NASA to propose an amendment to a 2020 budget request made by President Donald Trump that would accelerate preparations for a future lunar mission.
Originally, NASA had pegged the year 2028 for a serious attempt at returning to the moon, and the administration’s former budget request for the next fiscal year was geared towards that timetable. Pence’s moving the deadline forward by four years thus necessitates their budget request amendment as explained by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. At a House Science Committee Bridenstine outlined the necessity of the amendment to consider a feasible 2024 mission. The Science Committee head Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) gained assurances from the NASA administrator that their proposed amendment be ready by April 15.
Current NASA plans for reestablishing and maintaining lunar missions as regularly as possible include the deployment of a space station orbiting the moon. This “Gateway” station will be where astronauts will base themselves after being delivered by NASA vehicles. From there they will land on the moon, explore and examine using modules and landers built under contract with private space companies like SpaceX. Lunar launches would be handled by the Space Launch System (SLS) launch vehicle, delivering astronaut crews aboard the Orion MPCV manned capsule.
President Trump has been especially vocal in pushing for a return to the moon, with VP Pence echoing this in his NSC speech, stating that “the mission matters more than the means.” Bridenstine interprets that as NASA needing more budgeting to realize the necessary means.
Images from INQUIRER and Swissinfo