Trump increases NASA's annual budget

USA plan to return to the moon

This time everything should be different - and yet the images will be the same: people in bulky suits will be walking through a gray wasteland. You will speak meaningful words. You will be emphatically patriotic. You will be heroes. This is what it will look like when in 2024 - 55 years after the first moon landing - Americans walk across the earth's satellite again.

If it comes to that: Because the ambitious project of a new American moon landing, called Artemis and surprisingly announced by US Vice President Mike Pence at the end of March, is anything but certain: details of the technology and feasibility are slowly crystallizing out that are quite promising sound. However, there are still a number of obstacles to be overcome: in terms of costs and schedules, international cooperation and, in particular, political support.

After all: Jim Bridenstine, head of the US space agency NASA, believes he has found a solution for the latter problem, for the unpredictable politics. "We have to be fast, because only then will we arrive at our destination," said Bridenstine last week at the air show in the Paris suburb of Le Bourget. The past has shown that dawdling is not a good idea with lunar programs. In 2004, for example, then US President George W. Bush announced that Americans should land on the moon again in 2020 - 16 years in the future. Without the necessary time pressure, however, politics never approved enough money. In order to advance the moon landing anyway, NASA had to cut its science program, which only made Congressmen angrier. Bush's successor, Barack Obama, did not hesitate and put an end to the unpopular project.

"We have to be quick, because only then will we arrive at our destination" (Jim Bridenstine)

"If we turn the moon flight into a decade-long program, then governments, budgets, congresses, priorities change, and in the end you never achieve what you wanted to achieve," says Bridenstine in Paris. Therefore, the target is now 2024 - the last year of the Trump administration, provided the incumbent president is re-elected.

Fast, faster, moon. The new program - in which actually everything should be different, everything more forward-looking, everything more international than the first moon landing - has become a race involuntarily. A race against time and against politics. And just like 50 years ago, when the Americans and Soviets fought a geopolitically motivated race to the moon, this time science threatens to fall by the wayside, the question of the meaning of such a project and its sustainability.

"We're not going back to the moon, we're not rebuilding Apollo: this time we're going to do the whole thing sustainably" (Jim Bridenstine)

Artemis is actually designed to be permanent: "We're not going back to the moon, we're not recreating Apollo," says Bridenstine. "This time we're going to take a sustainable approach." Instead of just leaving a few flags and a few footprints, Artemis is supposed to be the start for an extended presence on the moon. Astronauts from all over the world should live and work there and thus gain the necessary experience to survive on other, more distant celestial bodies. Private companies should enter lunar commerce - starting with goods transport and tourism to the extraction of raw materials.