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WATCH: NASA administrator says new rocket won’t be ready for moon shot next year

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s top official says the space agency’s new rocket won’t be ready for a moon shot next year.

Administrator Jim Bridenstine told a Senate committee Wednesday he’s considering switching to commercial rockets to preserve the June 2020 launch date.

Bridenstine says two commercial rockets would be needed, one to launch the Orion capsule and its European-built service module, the other to launch an upper stage. Orion would have to dock with the upper stage in orbit around Earth, before heading to the moon.

NASA’s SLS, or Space Launch System, rocket, could do everything in one fell swoop.

Bridenstine says NASA will decide in the next couple weeks whether to stick with its rocket and delay — or go commercial for this one test flight.

It originally was scheduled this year.

Bridenstine tesified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on what is being deemed “the new space race.”

Bridenstine told lawmakers in his opening remarks that he is confident the U.S. will be able to continue its legacy as a leader in space. He said the U.S. plans to have a “sustainable,” although not continuous, human presence on the moon. He also said the Trump administration aims to utilize the resources on the moon, including air, water, hydrogen and oxygen that could be used for rocket fuel.

The Trump administration’s ultimate goal, he said, is a mission to Mars.

Department of Commerce Office of Space Commerce Director Kevin O’Connell also testified.

The PBS NewsHour contributed to this report

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