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  • Borislav Ivanov

NASA establishes Moon to Mars Program Office

As NASA continues preparations for the upcoming Artemis 2 mission, the space agency has set up a new office, as mandated by Congress, to supervise planning for this and future lunar missions.

On March 30, NASA announced the creation of the Moon to Mars Program Office within the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. The office's primary responsibility will be to integrate the numerous programs currently underway as part of the Artemis lunar exploration campaign, including Orion, the Space Launch System, Gateway, lunar landers, and spacesuits.

Last year, Congress directed NASA to establish the office through a NASA authorization that was included in the CHIPS and Science Act. This directive arose from concerns within Congress and among NASA advisers about the absence of a single individual overseeing all the programs comprising Artemis.

Amit Kshatriya, who previously served as acting deputy associate administrator for common exploration systems development, leads the office. In an interview at the Johnson Space Center following the Artemis 2 crew announcement on April 3, he explained the new position: “It’s important to know what it is and it’s important to know what it isn’t.”

Kshatriya clarified that the managers of the various programs are still performing the same jobs. The primary change, he said, is a realignment of roles and responsibilities at the headquarters, work that had already begun before the passage of the authorization act to ensure consistent integration among the programs. The goal, he added, is to expedite the headquarters reorganization and eliminate some redundant efforts in specific areas.

Jim Free, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems development, commented on the office's purpose in an interview, stating, “I think what it really allows us to do is have that single focal point that’s worried about our near-term missions.” He added that the office's focus should be on Artemis missions 2 through 5.

Free noted that he previously held the responsibility of overseeing these missions before the office's creation. “I think it gives us that single point that everybody can go to,” he said. “He can track and worry about those missions every day.”

Kshatriya emphasized that his primary focus is on Artemis 2. He stated that lessons learned from Artemis 1 must be incorporated, along with the completion of the SLS and Orion vehicles and work on ground systems required for the mission. “The next mission up is 100% my priority, to make sure that none of this realignment that we’re doing impacts that.”

However, part of the office's function is to plan for the future. Kshatriya explained that the Moon to Mars office was tasked with ensuring that technological developments and mission modes align with potential future Mars-related activities. This includes testing closed-loop life support systems and developing the Gateway.

Kshatriya affirmed that these efforts have been ongoing with every investment made. “We’ve been doing that in every investment we’ve been making,” he said. “But tying it together and bringing that to the front of the exploration program in terms of the messaging and the kind of philosophy I think is in front of us still.”

Free expressed optimism about the implementation of Congress's directive. “The way we’ve implemented what Congress had asked us to do I think will turn out to be very good,” he said.

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