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Officials: Maryland Facilities Play Key Role in Upcoming NASA Missions

Maryland will play a vital role in NASA’s plan to put “the first woman and the next man” on the moon, officials said during a virtual Tuesday afternoon meeting.

With a rocket set to launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, just south of the Maryland state line, later this week, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine emphasized the importance of Maryland in the agency’s operations during their Tuesday event.

NASA plans to launch a slew of ambitious exploration projects beyond Earth’s atmosphere in the coming years, Bridenstine said. Some of those include NASA’s return to the moon and the launch of a high-tech telescope powerful enough to see the early universe, he said.

Important work for those projects will take place at the agency’s centers in and near Maryland: the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Bridenstine said the agency’s partners in Maryland, including the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University’ Applied Physics Laboratory in Howard County will all contribute to upcoming missions.

“Maryland is critically important to us as an agency,” Bridenstine said.

Some of the work being done in Maryland includes improving communication in space, building payloads for NASA’s next lunar lander, and even analyzing data from telescopes to pinpoint stars with distant planets. The agency plans to launch a new space satellite into orbit next year, Bridenstine said. And officials hope to put a man and woman on the moon by 2024, according to NASA’s Artemis Project.

Van Hollen emphasized that NASA and Maryland have a mutually beneficial relationship. There were more than 35,000 NASA-related jobs in Maryland last year, and the agency generated roughly $7.5 billion in economic output in the state in 2019, according to its annual economic impact report.

NASA is digging into its pockets to keep planned missions afloat despite the financial strain brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Bridenstine said the space agency has identified which missions are essential to the country and which ones could be delayed if need be.

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