WASHINGTON - NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Friday said Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama will anchor the US space agency's program to build a spacecraft to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024, a boon for the state and a disappointment for Texas.
Bridenstine, accompanied by US lawmakers from Alabama, made the announcement about the NASA Artemis lunar program at the Huntsville facility in front of a 45-meter tall test version of a fuel tank for NASA's heavy-lift moon rocket, the Space Launch System.
The announcement, which promises to bring jobs and prestige to Alabama, disappointed lawmakers from Texas who had lobbied for the lunar lander program to be headquartered at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, which under NASA's announcement will play a secondary role.
"Now, I will say this was not a decision that was made lightly," Bridenstine said.
Bridenstine said 363 jobs will be created following the announcement, 140 of which will be in Huntsville and 87 in Houston.
The Johnson Space Center, which managed Apollo and other NASA human spaceflight programs in the past, will help assimilate US astronauts with the lunar lander and manage all Artemis missions beginning in 2020, when the program's debut unmanned flight to space is due, NASA said.
"I am disappointed by the decision from NASA to not place the lunar lander program management at the Johnson Space Center," Republican US Representative Brian Babin of Texas, who had planned to attend the ceremony but canceled on Thursday, said in a statement.
"All the NASA agencies work together. This is not where Marshall does everything - they do only a part of it," said US Representative Robert Aderholt of Alabama, the top Republican on the House of Representatives appropriations panel that provides funds for NASA. "What's important is that we have the funding to make this happen."
Bridenstine in May requested that Congress increase NASA's proposed budget for fiscal 2020, which begins Oct. 1, by $1.6 billion, much of which would be earmarked to seed commercial development of the human lunar landing system.
The Artemis mission is likely to cost $20 billion to $30 billion dollars over 5 years.
"As NASA moves forward with their plans I will use every tool at my disposal to ensure the Johnson Space Center remains the crown jewel in human space exploration," Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who had urged Bridenstine to choose Johnson Space Center, said in a statement.
Companies including billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Elon Musk's SpaceX and Lockheed Martin Corp are developing different potential components of the lunar lander and will compete for NASA funds under competitive bids due to be solicited later in the year.