Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech yesterday in which he outlined NASA’s new goal. The agency will no longer focus on going to Mars – it is now planning a return to the Moon first.
The announcement is the latest about-turn for the agency, which must be pretty sick of being given a new goal every 4 years. Under Bush, it was the Moon. Under Obama, Mars. Now we’re back to the Moon again. Come on people.
Absent from Pence’s speech – given at the National Space Council’s launch controversially re-started by Trump – were any actual specifics. There was no timeline, no showing of new hardware, no studies. Instead, we got a bunch of wishy-washy statements that might placate the public, but in reality, mean absolutely nothing.
“We will return American astronauts to the Moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” Pence said at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Virginia, equivalent to me telling you I’m developing my own nuclear fusion reactor.
“We won the race to the Moon a half a century ago, and now we will win the 21st century in space.”
As mentioned, we have no idea when this would actually happen. It would be the first return to the Moon since Apollo 17 left in 1972. What the plan actually is though, who knows.
For the last decade, NASA has been working on a huge new rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), and a new spacecraft called Orion. The latter has completed one unmanned launch, while the former will not fly for the first time until 2019.
These were developed as part of Obama’s broader goal to get astronauts to Mars, a worthy idea if one that was not fully supported. This so-called Journey to Mars, championed by former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, would have seen astronauts orbit the Red Planet in the 2030s and, at some point, land.
Giving up on Mars would be "disastrous," Bolden told IFLScience in an interview 2 years ago. Sorry Charlie.