While not a Cabinet position, the NASA Administrator is nominated by the president of the United States and tasked with enacting their overall space policy. As such, a new occupant in the White House has historically resulted in a different long-term directive for the agency. Some presidents have wanted bold programs of exploration, while others have directed NASA to follow a more reserved and economical path, with the largest shifts traditionally happening when the administration changes hands between the parties.
So it’s no surprise that the fate of Artemis, a bold program initiated by the previous administration that aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon, has been considered uncertain since the November election. But the recent announcement that SpaceX has been awarded a $331.8 million contract to launch the first two modules of the lunar Gateway station, an orbital outpost that will serve as a rallying point for astronauts coming and going to the Moon’s surface, should help quell some concerns. While the components still aren’t slated to fly until 2024 at the earliest, it’s a step in the right direction and strong indicator that the new administration plans on seeing Artemis through.
Two For the Price of One
The contracted launch is unique in that SpaceX is being tasked with launching two separate modules, the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) built by Maxar Technologies, and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) from Northrop Grumman, on the same rocket. These two core Gateway components, which essentially make up a miniature space station themselves, will be mated on the ground at Kennedy Space Center and tested for several months before being loaded onto a Falcon Heavy.