Nearly 50 years after the last Apollo astronaut set foot on the moon in 1972, NASA is planning to send American astronauts back to the moon. Bill Harwood, CBS News space analyst, spoke about thewith CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett on this week's episode of "The Takeout" podcast.
The Trump administration called on NASA to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024. But given the significant funding needed for such a project, Harwood characterized the 2024 goal as a "really big if." It's more likely that we'll see a first landing closer to 2025 or 2026.
"It all comes down to funding," Harwood said, adding that making progress with the Artemis missions was "a question of national will."
The first Space Launch System will launch late this year on an unpiloted maiden flight, sending an Orion capsule on a long, looping trip around the moon. A second piloted flight with four astronauts aboard is planned in 2023 to put the Orion capsule through its paces before a landing attempt on the Artemis 3 mission.
Harwood said that NASA would aim to land astronauts near the south pole of the moon, where there is suspected to be ice. The chemical components of ice "could be used to make air, water and rocket fuel," Harwood said.
"The idea is to support long-term exploration, to exploit the resources of the moon, and to possibly use it as a staging base for eventual flights to Mars," Harwood said of the Artemis missions — if there is ice on the moon. But he cautioned that traveling to the moon is "not easy," even though astronauts first visited there decades ago.
"This is a challenging thing to go do, and it's very expensive, and it's got some risk involved," he said.
Harwood also discussed the eventual goal of colonizing Mars, which "is the most Earth-like planet in the solar system by far." He pointed out the reasons other planets aren't compatible with sustaining human life: Mercury is airless, Venus is a "pizza oven," and the moons of the gas giants are so far away that landing there is "in the realm of science fiction right now."
Colonizing Mars is not exactly on our horizon in the next 20 or even 50 years; it could take centuries.
"In our lifetimes, colonization is not even on the table," Harwood said. "We all talk about this as if it's something we're going to do next year, but no. This is long-term stuff."
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