A few days ago, Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to discuss the administration's intentions for the future of human exploration, including plans to go back to the Moon.
"It is now the official policy of the United States of America that we will return to the Moon, put Americans on Mars, and once again explore the farthest depths of outer space,” said Pence in the speech.
The plan for the moon sees the construction and delivery of the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway in the middle of the next decade. The Gateway is a planned lunar-orbit space station that will have a small crew habitat and some logistic modules. It is envisioned as a key component for future exploration, both for the construction of a permanent settlement on the Moon and as a potential launchpad for deep-space exploration. Eventually, even the exploration of Mars. The first module, called the Power and Propulsion Element, is expected to be launched in 2022, with the Deep Space Habitat to follow suit in 2024.
“We’re only a few short years away from launching the Gateway’s first building blocks into space, turning science fiction into science fact. And our administration’s working tirelessly to put an American crew aboard the Lunar Orbital Platform before the end of 2024,” Pence continued.
In a politically charged speech, Pence complained that the US had to rely on Russian rockets to get to low-Earth orbit for the last seven years, and he announced that “soon – and very soon – American astronauts will return to space on American rockets launched from American soil. And when they go, they will be guided by the dedicated team here at the Johnson Space Center.”
Pence is certainly optimistic about NASA’s commercial partnership that will stop American astronauts from having to fly to Russia to go to space, but the Government Accountability Office is not as cheery. In a report published in July, the Government watchdog suggests that crewed commercial vehicles are likely to be delayed further and that could result in a gap in accessing the International Space Station for the US.
Pence also reiterated the commitment of the administration in creating the Space Force, a new military branch dedicated to advance American security in space. The power to create this potential sixth branch of the military doesn’t reside with the government. The role of establishing and organizing the armed forces belongs to Congress.