Trump has signed a new directive to shift NASA’s focus once again, aimed at sending humans back to the Moon before going to Mars. As yet, there’s not really any detail on how this will happen.
Making a speech at the White House yesterday, Trump said Space Policy Directive 1 would “refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery.” Spare a thought for poor science there, eh.
The signing came 45 years to the day that Apollo 17 landed on the Moon, the last time humans visited our lunar neighbor. As such, Trump was flanked by the last remaining Moon walker from that mission, Jack Schmitt.
“This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints – we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond,” Trump said.
He signed the directive, with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin in attendance along with Peggy Whitson, who is the most experienced US astronaut in history.
This signals a shift from the Obama administration, who had focused on missions to Mars rather than going to the Moon. Under Obama, former NASA administrator Charlie Bolden had repeatedly pushed for his Journey to Mars idea, telling IFLScience in 2015 that “giving up on Mars would be disastrous”.
Well, that’s exactly what Trump has done, and it once again leaves NASA in no-man’s land. NASA will not see any shift in its budget as a result of this directive until 2019, which means that by 2021, a new President could very well just shift it back again to Mars.
NASA is currently working on a proposal to build a space station near the Moon, called the Deep Space Gateway. This is seen as a successor to the International Space Station (ISS), with partners including Russia, Japan, and Europe expected to be involved.
But there has been little to no discussion about actually going back to the surface of the Moon. That requires significant development and, most importantly, time. With NASA’s goal constantly shifting (it was the Moon under Bush, Mars under Obama, and now the Moon again), it’s safe to say progress is pretty slow.
"Under President Trump’s leadership, America will lead in space once again on all fronts,” said Vice President Pence. Again, though, how? Without any details, this is very much just bluff and bluster. Not to mention that the US is already the world-leader in other areas like uncrewed planetary exploration.
NASA, once again, has a new goal to aim for. If it ever gets there, it may well find it has been long beaten.