Hot on the heels of the historic InSight touchdown — NASA's first Mars landing in six years — the U.S. space agency has big news regarding another space exploration mission, this time aiming to fly a little closer to home.
Earlier today, NASA announced on Twitter that it will be holding a press conference on Thursday afternoon to reveal fresh details about the agency's endeavor to return to the moon.
More specifically, the space agency plans to unveil the names of the U.S. companies that have been chosen to work together with NASA and carry out the mission of putting American astronauts on the moon for the first time since in nearly five decades.
"The U.S. is returning to the surface of the moon, and we're doing it sooner than you think!" NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted a few hours ago.
Bridenstine will be making the big announcement on November 29, during a media briefing hosted at NASA headquarters in Washington. The event is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. EST and will be broadcast to the public on NASA Live and NASA Television.
"Working with U.S. companies is the next step to achieving long-term scientific study and human exploration of the moon and Mars," NASA officials said in a statement issued today.Known as the Moon to Mars project, the initiative was put together following the indications of the Space Policy Directive-1, signed by President Donald Trump in December 2017. As the Inquisitr previously reported, SPD-1 instructs NASA to return to the moon and lay the groundwork that will eventually take humanity on our first trip to Mars.
The space directive "gave NASA a new direction, telling the agency to work with international and commercial partners to refocus exploration efforts on the moon, with an eye to eventually going on to Mars and even beyond," NASA stated in April, when the space agency announced the strategic goals of the lunar exploration mission.
In September, NASA unveiled the point-by-point objectives of this new exploration campaign, which is focused on building the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway — a space station floating in the moon's orbit, which will serve as a pit stop for future space missions.
The plan also includes launching the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket — the largest rocket ever built, more powerful than the Saturn V rocket that took astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s through the Apollo program.
"The technology we used to first explore the moon was groundbreaking for its time. Just imagine what we will accomplish this time around!" NASA tweeted earlier today.According to the space agency, the lunar gateway will allow U.S. astronauts to start orbiting the moon as early as 2023. The first manned lunar mission since the end of Apollo 17 in 1972 is expected to take place no later than the late 2020s.
"This will be the first chance for the majority of people alive today to witness a moon landing — a moment when, in awe and wonder, the world holds its breath. However, America will not stop there."In order to pave the way for man's return to the moon, NASA will first deploy a robotic mission to the lunar surface. Slated to launch in two years' time, this robotic campaign will scope out the lunar environment and help prepare astronauts for a long-duration moon mission.