By Joey Roulette
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – NASA headquarters are set to announce plans on Friday to name the US space company Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama as the headquarters of its human lunar landing program, signaling progress in its work to put astronauts back on the moon In 2024, three people familiar with the plan said.
NASA will also designate its Johnson Space Center in Houston to oversee the development of a spacecraft to launch astronauts from the lunar surface into a lunar orbit platform called Gateway, the sources said, speaking on anonymity.
Jim Bridenstine, NASA's administrator, is scheduled to publish the announcement at the Marshall plant in Huntsville, the facility from which the land system, consisting of three different parts to be built by a handful of space contractors, will be managed, the sources said.
The two U.S. Senators from Texas, Republicans Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and a Republican U.S. congressman from the state, Brian Babin, urged Bridenstine in a letter Thursday to reconsider the decision and continue to issue a message. The three lawmakers argued that the Johnson Space Center should anchor the lunar landing program instead of the site on Alabama.
The Marshall Space Flight Center is where the family of rockets used in the Apollo program, which first sent astronauts to the moon half a century ago, were built.
Companies, including billionaire Jeff Bezos & # 39; Blue Origin, Elon Musk's SpaceX and Lockheed Martin Corp, are developing various potential components of the lunar lander and will compete for NASA funds under competitive bids scheduled to be called later this year.
In May, Bridenstine appointed the Artemis program and asked Congress to increase NASA's proposed fiscal 2020 budget, beginning Oct. 1, with $ 1.6 billion, the majority of which would be earmarked for seed commercial development of the human lunar landing system.
"Standing program offices is a really, really big deal," said one industry involved in the plans. "Things are starting to move fast, demands are being strengthened and you are getting that authority and accountability."
The new lunar mission – an effort likely to cost $ 20 billion to $ 30 billion over five years – comes as NASA seeks, with the help of private partners, to resume human space missions from American soil for the first time since its spacecraft program ended 2011 .NASA announced Bridenstein's scheduled performance at the Marshall facility without providing details of the announcement. It said Alabama Republican U.S. Representatives Mo Brooks and Robert Aderholt and other lawmakers must join Bridenstine, himself a former Republican congressman, on Friday.
Vice President Mike Pence in March announced an accelerated timeline for NASA to put astronauts back on the lunar surface in 2024, cutting half a previous target to get there in 2028.
President Donald Trump's own support for the mission has been unclear. In June, the Republican President criticized NASA for aiming to put astronauts back on the moon in 2024, urging the agency to instead focus on "much larger" initiatives such as going to Mars and undercutting its previous support for the lunar initiative.
(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Will Dunham)