Trump policy directive makes Moon NASA’s official goal for human exploration
In a brief but pointed Dec. 11, 2017, ceremony at the White House, President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, which officially directs NASA to send astronauts back to the Moon as a precursor effort to exploring Mars.
In the presence of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 17 astronaut and former Senator Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, astronaut Peggy Whitson, and class of 2013 astronaut Christina Koch, among others, Trump said that the directive would “restore American leadership in space.”
Making it official
Trump said that this policy announcement was made almost 45 years to the minute that Schmitt was one of the last Americans to land on the Moon. He pledged that Schmitt would not be the last.
“The directive I’m signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” Trump said. “It marks a first 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 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.”
President Trump’s “flag and footprints” comment reflected the October recommendation by the National Space Council – led by Vice President Mike Pence.
“We will return American astronauts to the Moon,” Pence said at the time, “not only to leave behind footprints and flags but [also] to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond.”
Responses to the policy directive
In a message to space agency employees, acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot cited some of the specific language from the policy. He said that the policy calls for the administrator to lead an “innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the Solar System and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.”
Lightfoot also said that the policy officially ends NASA’s existing effort to send humans to an asteroid. President Obama directed the agency to pursue the asteroid mission in 2010 as the next step to Mars. Trump’s policy returns NASA’s attention to the Moon, hearkening back to the Vision for Space Exploration announced by President George W. Bush in 2004.
Like the Bush policy, the new policy emphasizes the Moon as a jumping-off point for Mars and beyond. Work toward the new directive will be reflected in NASA’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request, due out early next year.
“I want the entire NASA workforce to know that this policy builds on the incredible work you already are doing,” Lightfoot said, referring to the SLS and Orion programs.
A spokesperson for Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on NASA’s Orion spacecraft, told Spaceflight Insider that the company supports the president and vice president’s vision and commitment to returning American astronauts to the moon.
“A lunar mission with today’s technology would further our understanding of the Moon’s history and resources,” the spokesperson said. “And it will build a strong foundation that will not only accelerate the U.S. to Mars and beyond, it will foster a thriving new space economy that will create jobs and drive innovation here on Earth. With the Orion deep space vehicle and our prototype orbital lunar habitat making outstanding progress, we are ready to help the nation achieve this bold new vision.”
Coalition for Deep Space Exploration President and CEO Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar also expressed her organization’s support.
“After 45 years, it is time to return humans to the region of the Moon even as we look toward Mars,” Dittmar said in a news release by Coalition for Deep Space Exploration. “The Coalition is proud to support NASA and to help bring about this exciting future. We congratulate the Trump Administration on its bold vision and commitment to American leadership in space.”
Dittmar said that the presidential directive affirms U.S. leadership in human space exploration while laying the foundation for eventual missions to Mars and beyond.
Why this policy?
The motivations behind the policy were spelled out by Trump and Pence, who also spoke at the ceremony.
“Space has so much to do with so many other applications, including military application,” Trump said.
Pence seconded the national security aspect, adding that pursuing these objectives would enhance U.S. national security and its capacity to provide for the common defense of its citizens.
“We will also spur innovation,” Pence said. “And we’ll see jobs created that we couldn’t even imagine could be created today. We’ll also ensure, lastly, that the rules and values of space exploration are written with American leadership and American values.”
Video courtesy of the White House
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.