President Donald Trump is officially directing NASA to send astronauts back to the Moon, as a pit stop to eventually send people to Mars. The move is part of a new order, Space Policy Directive-1, which Trump signed today during a very brief ceremony at the White House. The directive is meant to reorient NASA’s focus from the Red Planet to the Moon, at least in the short term, shifting away from the priorities set forth by the Obama administration.
The signing appropriately coincides with the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 17 landing, the last time humans ever landed on the Moon. At the event, Trump said the directive will re-establish American leadership in space, while creating jobs and enhancing US national security. “We’ll refocus American space program on human exploration and discovery,” Trump said. “This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps someday to many worlds beyond.” The Verge
“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” Trump said. “It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use. This time we will not only plan on flag and leave our footprint.”
Deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said Monday that Trump’s directive came after the National Space Council sent recommendations to the President.
In approving the new policy, Trump abandoned what had been a goal of his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama, who in 2010 backed a plan to send humans to a near-earth asteroid.
NASA said initial funding for the new policy would be included in its budget request for fiscal year 2019.
Unlike with the space race of the 1960s, the program Trump outlined Monday would not be entirely a NASA-run operation. Instead, the agency would enlist international partners and a new class of billionaire-run private space juggernauts to help pull it off.
The goal would be to return to the moon, then journey on to Mars — though Trump left it unclear whether the U.S. would rely primarily on humans or robots to build a lunar outpost for deep space exploration.
NASA’s goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
Chris Carberry, executive director of Explore Mars, a non-profit organization that aims to advance the goal of sending humans to Mars within the next two decades, welcomed the policy directive and urged the administration to drive space exploration over the coming years. “We are certainly happy that Mars remains a key element of US space policy,” to told Fox News, via email. “However, we also hope that a plan can [be] devised that will enable humanity to return to the Moon, but not delay Mars missions by decades.”
Officials in the Trump administration asked NASA to consider putting humans on that flight, but NASA ultimately decided against it after a review. The first mission with a crew on that NASA spacecraft isn’t supposed to happen until 2022.
The company SpaceX is also constructing a large rocket and has announced that it intends to launch the first private mission to the moon in 2018. SpaceX says it has paying customers for a trip in an automated capsule that wouldn’t land, but would loop around the moon and then return.
SpaceX also has contracts with NASA to bring astronauts up to the International Space Station and is scheduled to start doing that next year as well. The company has already been hauling cargo to and from the station for NASA.
But what’s still lacking is the funds needed to turn this mission to the Moon into a reality. Already, NASA’s human exploration programs suck up $4 billion each year, and there’s little money leftover for other programs. And NASA is going to need more key hardware — notably a lunar lander — if it wants to put humans on the Moon’s surface again. “The Moon is great, but the plans and partnerships matter more than dates and destination,” Phil Larson, a former space advisor for the Obama administration and assistant dean at the University of Colorado’s College of Engineering.
NBC (2005 article on projected budget needed)
The $104 billion plan calls for an Apollo-like vehicle to carry crews of up to four astronauts to the moon for seven-day stays on the lunar surface. The spacecraft, known as the Crew Exploration Vehicle or CEV, could even carry six-astronaut crews to the international space station or fly automated resupply shipments as needed, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said.