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JUDY WOODRUFF: This summer will mark the 50th
anniversary of Neil Armstrong's first setting

foot on the moon, a moment for the ages.
But ever since the space shuttles were retired,
there's been a renewed debate over what NASA's

mission should be.
As it turns out, what's old is new again.
There's a big push to return to the moon.
Miles O'Brien looks at those questions and
the man who tasked -- is tasked with overseeing

it for our weekly segment about the Leading
Edge of science, technology and health.

MILES O'BRIEN: One year into his tenure as
NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine is a man

on a new mission for the space agency.
MAN: Please join me in welcoming Jim Bridenstine.
MILES O'BRIEN: It made him a star at the 35th
Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, the annual

convening of the cosmic cognoscenti.
JIM BRIDENSTINE, NASA Administrator: So many
in this room are familiar that we have been

given now a new charge, that we are going
to place humans on the surface of the moon

in five years.
For a number of years at NASA, they weren't
really allowed to talk about going to the

And now they not only can talk about going
to the moon.

The idea that we're going to be there in five
years has everybody extremely excited.

MILES O'BRIEN: U.S. astronauts on the moon
by 2024, Vice President Mike Pence dropped

that gauntlet at the end of March.
MIKE PENCE, Vice President of the United States:
Now, make no mistake about it.

We're in a space race today, just as we were
in the 1960s, and the stakes are even higher.

MILES O'BRIEN: A space race with whom?
A private mission designed by Elon Musk and
SpaceX or also China, which landed on the

far side of the moon in January, and vows
to build a permanent encampment there in a

It's a time frame that invokes another race,
another era.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, President of the United States:
We choose to go to the moon in this decade

and do the other things, not because they
are easy, because they are hard.

MILES O'BRIEN: NASA delivered on President
Kennedy's audacious challenge 50 years ago

this July.
That moon race was fueled by rivalry with
the Soviets, the desire to honor the wishes

of a martyred leader, and a blank check from

A lot of things just lined up perfectly to
make that happen.

JIM BRIDENSTINE: That's right.
MILES O'BRIEN: Do you see the similar ingredients
right now?

JIM BRIDENSTINE: So, it's a different era.
That kind of competition doesn't exist right

But what does exist now that's unique that
didn't happen back then is all of the partnerships

with international players.
MILES O'BRIEN: During the symposium, the former
Navy fighter pilot, who wasn't even alive

during Apollo, met with those international

He had some convincing to do.
U.S. space policy has shifted with the political

In 2004, President George W. Bush retired
the shuttle program and set his sights on

the moon, a program called Constellation.
But when Barack Obama became president, he
made it clear the moon didn't interest him.

So, in 2010, he canceled Constellation after
an independent committee determined the NASA

budget fell far short of the ambition.
The agency was left with a vague underfunded
notion to go to Mars.

But in December of 2017, President Trump signed
Space Policy Directive 1, which put NASA back

on course to the moon.
NASA policy has been as dizzying as the stomach-churning
gimbal rig test endured by the first astronauts.

When you talk to your counterparts, as you
did earlier today, and you tell them, we're

going to be there in five years, we need your
help, are they kind of hanging on to their

wallet a little bit?
Are they a little skeptical?
JIM BRIDENSTINE: We are anxiously anticipating
the resources that come from these other countries.

But you're right, not every country will participate
at the same level, and we're OK with that.

MILES O'BRIEN: All the big spacefaring nations
were here, except China, conspicuous in its

What are your thoughts on whether China should
somehow be brought into this partnership?

JIM BRIDENSTINE: So, that goes above the pay
grade of the NASA administrator.

What I will tell you is that we follow the
law, and the law says that NASA is not going

to do any bilateral kind of cooperation with

MILES O'BRIEN: So what will this international
sprint look like?

To be determined, quickly.
MIKE PENCE: The president has directed NASA
and Administrator Jim Bridenstine to accomplish

this goal by any means necessary.
You must consider every available option and
platform to meet our goals, including industry,

government, and the entire American space

MILES O'BRIEN: Pence gave that address at
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville

Alabama, where they designed the Saturn V
rocket that carried Apollo astronauts to the

The even bigger rocket they and Boeing are
building now, the Space Launch System, or

SLS, is troubled.
JIM BRIDENSTINE: It's behind schedule.
Yes, it's over cost.
Yes, it's been a challenge.
Every rocket program in history has had those
challenges, but we're almost there.

And the problems that it has had historically
-- it's been under development now for 10

years -- we're getting those problems fixed.
MILES O'BRIEN: Elon Musk's SpaceX is in early
development of a huge rocket for missions

to the moon and Mars, but it is unlikely a
commercial alternative to SLS would be ready

in time.
Besides, politics dictates this rocket be
at the center of this program.

The powerful delegation from Alabama will
have it no other way.

When he came to NASA, Bridenstine was in his
third term as a Republican congressman from

He understands technology through a political

JIM BRIDENSTINE: There's two kinds of risk.
There's the technical risk and then there's
the political risk.

As a member of Congress, I can tell you, I
have seen it.

The technical risk is irrelevant if the politics
aren't right.

MILES O'BRIEN: Bridenstine has already gotten
a taste of the skepticism he is facing among

his former colleagues.
EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON (D-TX): The simple truth
is, is that we are not in a space race to

get to the moon.
We won that race a half-century ago.
MILES O'BRIEN: Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson
chairs the House Science Committee.

EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON: Rhetoric that is not
backed by a concrete plan and believable cost

estimates is just hot air.
And hot air might be helpful in ballooning,
but it won't get us to the moon or Mars.

MILES O'BRIEN: Even if SLS works, NASA needs
a lot more hardware, like the Orion crew capsule

built by Lockheed Martin and its service module
built by the European Space Agency.

But the agency also aims to build a small
outpost orbiting the moon called the Lunar

Orbital Platform-Gateway.
And, of course, it needs a lander.
Bridenstine is hoping for help from international
partners or maybe commercial players.

Why five years?
A lot of people look at it and say, this synchs
up with the political calendar perhaps a little

bit suspiciously.
Is there a political motivation to all this?
JIM BRIDENSTINE: I don't think so at all.
If there is, nobody has talked to me about

So, I will tell you what I think it is.
The idea that these long timelines allow the
agency to be cast to and fro by political

whims, that's what we're trying to avoid.
MILES O'BRIEN: The plan is more than a sprint,
followed by flags, footprints and photos.

NASA hopes it will be the beginning of a permanent
outpost near the lunar south pole, a base

for science and a proving ground for a mission
to Mars.

The concern has always been that, on paper,
that's a great idea.

It's a springboard to Mars.
It also could be a cul-de-sac or a dead end.
MILES O'BRIEN: Because there's only so much
money and interest.

JIM BRIDENSTINE: That's right.
MILES O'BRIEN: And it could lose momentum.
So you're right.
If we get bogged down on the moon and we put
all of our resources there, then we're not

going to get to Mars.
So we don't want that to happen.
MILES O'BRIEN: Speed, sustainability and safety
all at once will not be cheap.

There is an expression in the space world
made popular in the 1983 movie "The Right

ACTOR: No bucks, no Buck Rogers.
MILES O'BRIEN: And in those glory days, NASA
had a whole lot of bucks, more than twice

the budget it gets now.
So the administration is poised to ask Congress
to up the ante on space.

It will require bipartisan support.
Sure, NASA can send a man to the moon, but
politics is not as easy as rocket science.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Miles O'Brien
in Colorado Springs.

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How NASA is preparing to launch another mission to the moon

110 Folder Collection
Yi-Jen Chang published on May 9, 2019
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