HOUSTON – Jim Bridenstine wants to ensure that there is never another day when people are not in space.
"In fact," said the NASA administrator, "we want a lot of people in space."
Bridenstine, head of the space agency in April, recently sat with Space.com and other reporters during a visit to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, in which he shared what he saw as his priority for NASA in the future. [These 9 Astronauts Will Fly the 1st Flights on SpaceX and Boeing Spaceships]
"If you look back on history, look back to the end of the Apollo program, 1972, when we did not go back to the moon … you look back and there was a period there after Apollo and for the space shuttles when we had a gap in human space capacity, "said Bridenstine. "And then you go further and look at the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011, and now we get to the point where we are ready to fly commercial personnel.We have a gap of about eight years in our ability to give the crew space to fly in.
"When we think of the [end of the] International Space Station, we want to ensure that there is no gap, "he said. I think it is important to do everything possible to prevent a new gap and that is why it is important to start this conversation now. "
To the moon
Bridenstine believes that almost a decade ago NASA should have seized the opportunity to pursue the moon.
"If you go back to 2009, the United States made a critical discovery through NASA, namely that the moon contains hundreds of billions of tons of water ice, and that had taken our direction immediately," he said. "From 1969, when we landed on the moon for the first time, until 2009, many people believed that the moon was bone dry." In 2008 the Indians did an experiment and realized that there was water ice on the moon and then did an experiment and realized how much water ice could possibly lie on the poles on the moon.
"So the question is – during those 40 years we missed that, what else have we missed?"
Now, as a NASA administrator, Bridenstine is implementing President Donald Trump's plans to bring astronauts to the moon.
"We need to reach more parts of the moon than ever before," he said. "When you looked at the Apollo program, we had six landings, all in the equatorial areas of the moon, and we did not get the full perspective, full understanding, science and knowledge."
Bridenstine also said that he sees the moon as a way forward to further away points in the solar system.
"I think many people miss the fact that the moon is an amazing test base for all technologies and the human performance abilities needed to survive on another planet and the ability to develop in-situ uses," Bridenstine said. "The moon represents the opportunity to do that activity for the first time, instead of doing it for the first time on Mars, where you can not even get home for two years."
Bridenstine said that the key to open the moon – and go to Mars – & # 39; Gateways & # 39; builds – small, space station-like platforms that serve as moonlight outposts or transports outwards.
"The [first] Gateway will be in an almost rectilinear halo-orbit. It is not optimal to get to the surface of the moon, but it makes it possible with very low propulsion – we are talking about solar electric propulsion – it allows us to spend a very long time in that orbit to stay, "Bridenstine said." And it allows us, the United States of America, to invest in critical infrastructure from where our commercial partners can travel back and forth from the earth to the lunar orbit, from where our commercial partners can build their own landers to reach the surface. of the moon.
"What we want to do is give more people access to the lunar surface than ever before and more people have access to the orbit of the moon than ever before," he said. "The interfaces that we have on Gateway, whether it's power or docking, it's all published on the internet, and we want everyone on the Internet – including countries that do not have large budgets for space travel – to watch and say on the Internet, & # 39; Look, we can build something that can be effective in the Gateway. & # 39; "
Bridenstine made it clear that the Gateway will not be another international space station. It will not be permanently staffed, but it can support people for 30 to 60 days of scientific missions. However, a second Gateway may be what astronauts transport to Mars, perhaps around 2030, he said.
"The first Gateway is over the moon, but I think the second Gateway, a deep-space transport, again with the help of commercial and international partners, allows us to go to Mars," Bridenstine said. "What we do not want to do is go to the surface of the moon, prove that we can do it again and then be able to do it.
"We want to stay in. And the Gateway is in my opinion – I am convinced – enables us to benefit from commercial and international partners in a more robust way, so that we are there to stay, it allows us to more parts of the moon than ever before, and it allows us to come to Mars, "he said. "There is no other architecture that I have been given, given the current budgets we have, which make it all possible."
Robert Pearlman is a writer from Space.com who contributes and the editor of collectSPACE.com, a Space.com partner site and the leading news publication in space history. Follow collectSPACE on Facebook and on Twitter on @collectSPACE. follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.