Now under the watch of reality TV star and US President Donald Trump, NASA is considering manned missions to orbit around the Moon before the end of his reign. There's even speculation about setting foot on the lunar surface for the first time in 45 years.
The Trump administration is looking to develop a new vision for the US space program that involves a “rapid” and “large-scale economic development of space,” according to internal documents obtained last week by POLITICO. Through huge collaborations with private space companies, this could involve putting new space stations into orbit, manned missions to the Moon's orbit, and potentially setting foot on the lunar surface once again.
This could mean "private American astronauts, on private spaceships, circling the Moon by 2020; and private lunar landers staking out de facto 'property rights' for America on the Moon, by 2020 as well," the action plan says, according to POLITICO.
The optimistic project is not set in stone yet, but NASA appears to be taking note.
Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator, issued a statement on Wednesday saying he’s been talking to top NASA officials about the possibility of adding astronauts to the Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) flight. The current plan for the EM-1 flight is to send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to orbit the Moon, using the world’s most powerful exploration rocket – the Space Launch System (SLS) – for the first time. The new announcement suggests adding astronauts to this test flight by late 2018.
The statement read: “I know the challenges associated with such a proposition, like reviewing the technical feasibility, additional resources needed, and clearly the extra work would require a different launch date. That said, I also want to hear about the opportunities it could present to accelerate the effort of the first crewed flight and what it would take to accomplish that first step of pushing humans farther into space.”
Much like the former Cold War space race, the ploy could appear to be an "all-guns-blazing" square-up to China, to prove the US is still top dog when it comes to space exploration.
“It's also a demonstration of our technological competence. At some point, I think the Chinese need to awaken to the fact that the U.S. does intend to maintain its pre-eminence in space. I can guarantee you that if we don’t go ahead and do a program like this, the Chinese are headed in that direction,” said Bob Walker, an adviser to Trump and former chair of the House Science Committee, according to the Washington Post.
“This would be another precursor to ultimately landing. And I think sometime within a second Trump term, you could think about putting a landing vehicle on the moon."
Like it or loathe it, this administration is not one for pussyfooting around brash plans. We'll just have to keep our eye on the president's Twitter page to see whether all this talk can really get off the ground.