Speaking in Tulsa on Wednesday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said it’s full speed ahead on a goal of putting astronauts on Mars.
NASA is working to return to the moon by 2024 and use that mission to learn how to live and work in space as preparation for landing on the red planet. Bridenstine said everything NASA is doing now contributes to the 2024 goal, including steps to commercialize space travel like using private companies for resupply missions to the International Space Station. NASA plans to have two companies drop payloads on the surface of the moon by 2021.
The former Oklahoma congressman said it’s important NASA succeed and get to Mars first to evaluate potential signs of life.
"If it is there, it will be discovered, and the question is, who do you want discovering it? Do you want it to be discovered by the United States of America leading a coalition of nations? Or do you want it to be discovered by another nation that might be more hostile to the United States of America?" Bridenstine said.
Bridenstine said NASA hasn’t had a big achievement since the 1969 moon landing, and the agency needs one now.
"If we want to inspire the next generation, we’ve got to do those stunning achievements. I can tell you right now, we have everything we need right now to do those stunning achievements, and when we do it, there will be a generation inspired just like Apollo inspired the generation that is working at NASA right now," Bridenstine said.
Bridenstine said his earliest memory of NASA is the Challenger explosion.
While NASA is forging ahead on its lunar mission to prepare for manned space flights to Mars, there are other things the agency is doing that could be a boon to places with strong aerospace industries. Bridenstine said Tulsa could get in on the ground floor of work to bring small, electric aircraft and autonomous flight together.
"You want Tulsa to step up in a major way? You could step up and participate in what we have right now, which is a grand challenge. We’re looking for communities to partner with NASA to, no kidding, help us understand how to fly from one side of the city to the other side of the city with what we call urban air mobility. Think of a taxi, except have that taxi be airborne," Bridenstine said.
NASA is also working on supersonic planes that don’t create sonic booms, a development that would dramatically change commercial air travel.