NASA (opens in new tab)has removed the Lunar Gateway (opens in new tab) from its "critical path" to return humans to the moon by 2024, according to a SpaceNews report (opens in new tab). But the agency has assured that it isn't casting aside its plan for a moon-orbiting space station.
With new changes to the agency's plan to return astronauts to the moon with the Artemis program (opens in new tab), NASA has removed the Gateway, a mini-space station that would facilitate crewed lunar landings, from its plan in favor of simpler solutions, Doug Loverro, the head of NASA's human spaceflight directorate, said Friday (March 13) at a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council's Science Committee, SpaceNews reported (opens in new tab).
Before the meeting, NASA announced that it had selected the first two science experiments to be flown aboard the Gateway. Loverro said that with these changes to the program, the station could accommodate science payloads because it was no longer on a "critical path" for a 2024 crewed lunar landing.
Related: Can NASA Really Put Astronauts on the Moon in 2024? (opens in new tab)
SpaceNews reported that, at the meeting, Loverro said that he aims to "de-risk" Artemis and simplify the program by focusing only on activities necessary to achieve the lunar landing.
"What are we going to do to go ahead and make that happen? And the answer is you've got to go ahead and remove all the things that add to program risk along the way," SpaceNews quoted Loverro as saying.
"If it's not mandatory, it's not necessary," he added.
According to the SpaceNews report, Loverro went on to say that things that "add to program risk" include activities that have never been accomplished before in space.
"What are all of the risks that can get in our way in a four-and-a-half-year schedule and how do we go ahead and pull them all early into program, or eliminate them from the program altogether by going ahead and making wise technical or programmatic choices?" he said, according to SpaceNews.
These reasons propelled NASA to take Gateway off of the critical path" for the planned lunar landing. Additionally, Loverro said that it was likely that the Gateway would fall behind schedule. And so, "I can guarantee you we do not need it for this launch," SpaceNews quoted Loverro as saying.
Now while Gateway is no longer a part of this path, NASA is not abandoning the Lunar Gateway, according to the SpaceNews report.
"By taking Gateway out of the critical path for the lunar landing in ’24, I believe what we have done is create a far better Gateway program," Loverro said, according to SpaceNews. "Frankly, had we not done that simplification, I was going to have to cancel Gateway because I couldn't afford it … by simplifying it and taking it out of the critical path, I can now keep it on track."
While Gateway might "add to program risk" for NASA's 2024 lunar goal, it will still be helpful and necessary for future, more "sustainable," lunar missions, Loverro said.
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