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NASA's New Moon Landing Mission Named Artemis; To Include First Woman

MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- In a surprise announcement, NASA revealed a new name for its moon program. The Artemis program, named after the Greek goddess of the moon, and twin sister of Apollo, intends to land astronauts on the South Pole of the moon by 2024 – four years sooner than originally planned. The mission would also include the first woman to walk the surface of the moon.

In order to meet that 2024 deadline, the Trump administration wants Congress to approve an additional $1.6 billion for NASA, on top of its $21-billion budget for next year.

The President tweeting, "Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars. I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!"

Fifty years ago this July, two Americans left the first footprints in lunar dust. Since then, no other country has matched Apollo's moonwalkers though five have sent probes and robots including Israel and China just this year.

"It's not by accident that so many countries around the world right now are going to the moon. And not all of 'em are going to the moon just to collect rocks," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told CBS News' Mark Strassmann. "It's a strategic imperative that the United States have a presence there as well."

When Bridenstine became the agency's administrator, a planned moon landing was a decade away, but in a March speech, Vice President Mike Pence lit a fire under NASA and its contractors, saying, "If NASA's not currently capable of landing American astronauts on the moon in five years, we need to change the organization, not the mission."

"We've seen over and over again, NASA create projects that are gonna be multi-decadal in length only to have administrations change, and projects get cancelled, with billions of dollars wasted of the taxpayer," said Bridenstine. "We're gonna shorten the timescale, we're gonna reduce the political risk, and we're gonna make this a reality."

That starts by accelerating development of NASA's new mega-rocket, called the space launch system, or SLS. On top would sit NASA's new crew capsule, Orion. Roughly 240,000 miles from Earth, Orion eventually would dock with a planned lunar-orbiting space station called Gateway. But the Artemis program lacks one key component: a lunar lander.

"Lunar landers are difficult to build. They take time, they take money. And we don't have that capability," Bridenstine said.

Not yet, but private industry wants that contract. Last week, billionaire Jeff Bezos introduced Blue Moon, his space company's design for a lunar lander. Lockheed Martin also has a design.

However, five years to get to the moon is an intense schedule.

"If somebody says this isn't safe, or that we need to think rethink this, ultimately, they have the authority to, to throw a red flag and say stop," said Bridenstine. "It is more important for us that our astronauts be safe than anything else, that's the goal."

Bridenstine, a former Congressman from Oklahoma, thinks he has the votes on Capitol Hill for this new budget hike.  Bigger requests are sure to follow.  Without that support, the moon looks very far away.

NASA hopes that more exploration of the moon will help the US establish a strategic presence in space and grow their international partnerships.

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