At a ceremony held at the White House yesterday, President Trump officially paved the way to send American astronauts back to the Moon by signing his Space Policy Directive 1.
“To guide this new era of American space leadership President Trump has relaunched the National Space Council and at the council’s inaugural meeting in October, we unanimously approved a recommendation to instruct NASA to return American astronauts to the Moon and from there to lay a foundation for a mission to Mars. Todays action by president Trump makes that recommendation official national policy for the United States of America,” said Vice President Mike Pence.
This new directive has echoes of George W. Bush’s Constellation programme -– Obama’s predecessor – that wanted to return humans to the Moon by 2020 and then onwards to Mars. President Obama cancelled the program and instead directed NASA to focus on sending astronauts direct to the Red Planet with an interim project that included the controversial Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). Like the ill-fated programmes commissioned before it, ARM too was disbanded when Trump became President.
Perhaps poignantly, the signing of the directive was timed to coincide with the Apollo 17 mission – the last mission when humans walked on the Moon. “Exactly 45 years ago, almost to the minute, Jack [Schmidt] became one of the last Americans to land on the Moon. Today we pledge that he will not be the last, and I suspect we will be finding other places to land in addition to the Moon,” said President Trump of former Lunar Module pilot Harrison “Jack” Schmidt who was part of the mission and who was present at the signing yesterday.
“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 some day to many worlds beyond,” said President Trump.
Trump, who is not one to hold back on his promise of making America great again, emphasised many times how the directive will “restore American leadership in space.” Leading where the President left off, Pence reiterated Trump’s ambitions by remarking that “space is the ‘next great American frontier’ – and it is our duty – and our destiny – to settle that frontier with American leadership, courage, and values.”
Before signing the directive President Trump quickly interjected that space was not just about exploration beyond our Earthly borders, but that it would also bring about jobs. Speaking earlier about what the Space Directive can do for other sectors connected to the industry, Trump remarked that, “space has so much to do with so many other applications including a military application. We are the leader and we are going to stay the leader and we’re going to increase it manyfold. “
Work toward the new directive will be reflected in NASA’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request next year.