On December 11, 2017, President Trump signed “Space Policy Directive 1,” intended to galvanize NASA and the American commercial space industry to establish a lunar presence and a path to Mars.
The ceremony was held in the Oval Office with members of the National Space Council, including Vice President and NSC chairman Mike Pence, as well as Buzz Aldrin, active astronauts Christina Hammock Koch and Peggy Whitson, and Jack Schmitt, the last person to set foot on the Moon in 1972.
President Trump said of the policy, “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 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 directive is intended to shift the resources of NASA towards establishing a presence on the moon as the starting point for exploration of the solar system.
In March 2017, NASA revealed its ambitious two-phase plan for a Deep Space Gateway and Deep Space Transport. The first phase will involve missions to test critical equipment and the eventual construction of a space station in lunar orbit. Once this module is operating, extensive tests on deep space operations can be conducted. The second phase is the development of the transport required for further destinations in the solar system which would use the Deep Space Gateway as a waypoint between Earth and Mars.
“This work represents a national effort on many fronts, with America leading the way,” said NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot in a press release. “We will engage the best and brightest across government and private industry and our partners across the world to reach new milestones in human achievement. Our workforce is committed to this effort, and even now we are developing a flexible deep space infrastructure to support a steady cadence of increasingly complex missions that strengthens American leadership in the boundless frontier of space. The next generation will dream even bigger and reach higher as we launch challenging new missions, and make new discoveries and technological breakthroughs on this dynamic path.”
With resources and focus shifting towards exploration of the solar system, the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which would have consisted of launching various probes to take samples from asteroids and deposit them in lunar orbit for extraction as well as explore techniques for planetary defense from asteroids, has ended.
The directive and NASA’s response indicates that many organizations in the public and private sector will be involved in this effort.
Private companies such as Space X also have their sights set on establishing a presence on the moon on the path to a Mars mission. The next decade will see both collaboration and competition on an incredible scale as nations and private commercial entities put monumental efforts to reach the moon, Mars, and beyond.
Space Travel image via Adobe Stock