US President Donald Trump this week announced a new pledge to return US astronauts to the Moon and then later Mars.
In a new directive titled ‘Space Policy Directive – 1’ the President called on Nasa to focus its efforts on human spaceflight and discovery.
Specifically, it calls for Americans to return to the Moon in the near future for ‘long-term exploration and use’.
There the country will build a base, as well as develop the infrastructure and expertise for humans to live in space for long periods of time.
With this infrastructure, the country then plans to send astronauts further – to Mars and other planets or moons further from Earth.
“After braving the vast unknown and discovering the new world, our forefathers did not only merely sail home — and, in some cases, never to return. They stayed, they explored, they built, they guided, and through that pioneering spirit, they imagined all of the possibilities that few dared to dream,” President Trump remarked at a press conference.
“Today, the same spirit beckons us to begin new journeys of exploration and discovery. […] This is a giant step toward that inspiring future and toward reclaiming America’s proud destiny in space.”
Specifically, Space Policy Directive – 1 amends the wording of the National Space Policy and calls on the country to lead an ‘innovative and sustainable program’ alongside commercial partners.
“Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations,” the amended text reads.
No funding increase announced
While Trump seemed enthusiastic about human space exploration, this policy change will be little more than words unless Nasa’s budget is increased significantly.
Right now the space agency is slowly developing its SLS heavy-lift rocket able to carry astronauts to the Moon and beyond, however, each launch is incredibly expensive and Nasa currently lacks the funding for any significant exploration efforts.
As well, the primary commercial spaceflight company with deep space ambitions – SpaceX – is led by Elon Musk, who had a very public falling out with Trump over climate change, and thus may be unwilling to cooperate with the administration on this project.