WASHINGTON, DC (NEXSTAR) — The coronavirus pandemic has upended many aspects of life on Earth, but NASA’s administrator told Congress it has yet to impact the agency’s missions in space.
During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday, Administrator Jim Bridenstine said NASA’s mission to land the first woman and next man on the moon as early as 2024 is still on track.
“The chief reason to go to the moon is because it accelerates our path to Mars,” Bridenstine said. “We believe it is important for the first person to land on Mars to be an American astronaut and we want to make sure that when we do go to Mars, we go with our international partners. This is about American leadership.”
Bridenstine credited CARES Act funding for keeping developments in the Artemis Program, like rocket testing and spacecraft construction, on schedule by providing personal protective equipment and other safety measures to the agency.
However, he stressed the program will need $28 billion over the next four years to launch, which Congress has yet to approve. Lawmakers recently bypassed new appropriation bills with a continuing resolution to avoid a possible government shutdown until December.
“Obviously, that’s never ideal, but the COVID-19 pandemic pretty much dictated that,” said Chairman Roger Wicker, R-MS.
Wicker asked Bridenstine what would happen to missions like the Artemis Program if Congress doesn’t act.
“If we get to February of 2021 without an appropriation, that’s going to really put the brakes on our ability to achieve a moon landing,” Bridenstine said.
He told Ranking Member Maria Cantwell, D-WA, major missions like this build the future.
“One of the things that we hear a lot about as we change and innovate is the skill level of the workforce and STEM,” Cantwell said.
“The best thing NASA can do for encouraging people to go into STEM is to inspire them,” Bridenstine said.
But the clock is ticking, and Congress is currently prioritizing issues on the ground over outer space.