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Astronauts on the Moon in 2024? US Can't Do It Alone, NASA Chief Says

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine is confident that the agency will be able to land astronauts on the moon in 2024, but the U.S. won't undertake the mission alone, he said during a speech here at the 35th Space Symposium on Tuesday (April 9). 

"Putting humans on the moon in 2024 is not an America-alone effort," Bridenstine told a jampacked room of space industry officials. "We need all of our international partners. In fact, none of us can do what we want to achieve alone."

Last month, Vice President Mike Pence announced that President Donald Trump's administration is directing NASA to speed up the timeline for its already-planned moon landing in 2028 to 2024 so that the United States can maintain its position as the leading space superpower of the world — a title that could be threatened by a blooming space race with China and Russia, Pence said at a meeting of the National Space Council on March 26. 

Related: Can NASA Really Put Astronauts on the Moon in 2024?

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine outlines the need for an international effort to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 during a speech at the 35th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado on April 9, 2019. (Image credit: Aubrey Gemignani/NASA)

Although NASA faces some international competition in lunar exploration, the agency has seen strong support and interest from international partners. Other countries will likely contribute technology and hardware for NASA's Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, a small habitat or space station that would orbit the moon — similar to the way that 15 nations have worked together on the International Space Station for the last 20 years. International partners like the European Space Agency and Japan's space agency, JAXA, have also expressed interest in contributing lunar landers and life-support systems.

The biggest challenge NASA will face in putting astronauts on the moon in 2024 will be funding, Bridenstine told Space.com. "We've got to make sure that we get the budgets necessary to accomplish the objective, which means we need strong bipartisan support — which we're working on really hard right now," Bridenstine said. "Technically, I think it's achievable." 

Bridenstine explained that already having some infrastructure in place for the original 2028 target will help make the 2024 landing doable, but the mission will still depend on cooperation with both international and commercial partners

"The plans that we laid out for 2028 are the same plans that we're going to use to get to the moon in 2024. We're just going to have to move forward some of our investments, but it's all achievable," Bridenstine said, adding that a sufficient budget is still "key." 

NASA is currently working on an amendment to its fiscal year 2020 budget request, because that budget was issued before Pence announced NASA's accelerated timeline for a moon landing in 2024. Bridenstine did not share any details about what will be in that budget amendment, but he said it will be submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget next week. 

While international partnerships can help alleviate some of the financial burden NASA would face if it had to do everything on its own, those other countries can also benefit from the new lunar infrastructure. Once the lunar gateway is ready, Bridenstine said, NASA and its partners will have "more access to more parts of the moon than ever before." NASA could launch foreign astronauts to the moon, but the agency is committed to making sure that the next man and the first woman on the moon are American, the agency head said.

So, NASA may be leading an effort to build a sustainable human presence on the moon, but the agency couldn't do it without teamwork. "This is all about leadership, and when I say 'leadership,' I'm not talking about the United States of America. I'm talking about leadership with all of our international partners," Bridenstine said in his speech. "We can do this."

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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