In a brief ceremony at the White House, with Vice President Mark Pence and retired astronauts at his side, President Donald Trump signed a momentous order, ‘Space Policy Directive – 1’ that authorizes the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to send back American astronauts to the moon.
“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery. It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for the long-term exploration and use,” he 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. This directive will ensure America’s space program once again leads and inspires all of humanity,” he added.
And then he deviated from the main subject to harp a bit about his administration’s good work, as has become a given with the man.
Tune in as President Trump signs Space Policy Directive – 1: https://t.co/huc4PDVyoC
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 11, 2017
“The pioneer spirit has always defined America and we are picking that up in many other fields, I think you see that, I think it’s obvious; all you have to do is look at what’s happening with the markets and all of the great things that are happening; we’re leading in many different fields again and it will get more and more obvious as you go along,” he said.
Deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said that Trump’s directive came on the recommendations of the NSC.
“He will change our nation’s human spaceflight policy to help America become the driving force for the space industry, gain new knowledge from the cosmos, and spur incredible technology,” Gidley said.
Vice President Pence, who is also the NSC chairman, called it a “momentous occasion in the history of American space exploration,” saying that the National Space Council’s recommendations were unanimously approved.
Pence said that the move will not only “provide for the common defense of the United States” but will also “see jobs created that we couldn’t even imagine will be created today.”
The presidential decree does not come as a surprise as both the President and Pence have been talking about sending American astronauts back on a moon mission since their campaign days in 2016.
At a campaign event near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Trump had spoken about paving the way for NASA to “refocus on space exploration” rather than being restricted to serve “ primarily as a logistical agency for low Earth-orbit activities.”
More recently, during the first NSC meeting in October, Pence had said that the Trump administration was committed to the moon mission and beyond.
“We will return NASA 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,” he had said addressing a crowd of reporters and representatives at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
“The moon will be a stepping-stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America’s space program toward human space exploration,” Pence had further elaborated.
It must be said that the directive was well-timed to coincide with the 45th anniversary of Apollo 17, the last of NASA’s six manned missions to the moon.
Similar promises were made by three former presidents but political and financial challenges of deep space exploration had paid put to their plans.
Neither Trump nor Pence was very forthcoming at the Monday signing of the directive in so far as budgetary allocations are concerned; when the funds would be made available to NASA; or, for that matter, what kind of timelines we are looking at for the mission to happen.
NASA also did not have much to say about the funding except that the initial funding for the new policy would be included in its budget request for the fiscal year 2019.
“NASA looks forward to supporting the president’s directive strategically aligning our work to return humans to the moon, travel to Mars and opening the deeper solar system beyond,” acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement, basically echoing what was already said.
Here are some of the obstacles that that Trump is likely to encounter in his ambitious deep space exploration plans:
To start with,s Jim Bridenstine, Trump’s nominee to head NASA faces stiff opposition from Senator Bill Nelson. This is what he said about the 42-year-old Bridenstine on November 1st:
“You are unqualified, too divisive, and too extreme, with a history of questioning climate science, advocating discrimination against LGBT Americans, and personally attacking people like former president Barack Obama and senator John McCain.”
Secondly, the financial practicality of the mission will only come to light when NASA’s next budget is allocated.
Again, it is unlikely that NASA would be able to make a manned moon landing before Trump’s term is over, considering the fact that the agency does not have a ready infrastructure such as a moon landing vehicle, among others. What it has, as of now, is the Space Launch System (its new heavy rocket) in addition to a space capsule called Orion.
However, what Trump has going in his favor, which his predecessors were not fortunate enough to have, is a number of private companies like SpaceX, Moon Express, Astrobotic – a Carnegie Mellon spin-off – and Blue Origin, who are investing heavily in space exploration beyond the regular low-earth orbit.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s obsession with deep space missions is well documented.
In October, SpaceX’s president Gwynne Shotwell said: “A permanent presence on the moon and American boots on the surface Mars are not impossible.”
Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin has been working on a lunar-lander and has pledged additional investment if NASA was willing to partner with the firm.
Blue Origin executive Brett Alexander said in September, “It’s time for America to return to the Moon—this time to stay.”