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Trump to send astronauts back to the Moon -- and eventually Mars

16 December 2017, 06:01 | Myrtle Vega

Enlarge Image Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan holds an American flag on the moon in 1972. NASA

Enlarge Image Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan holds an American flag on the moon in 1972.                  NASA

US President Donald Trump signed a policy directive on Monday instructing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to "refocus America's space program on human exploration and discovery".

With Apollo 17 moonwalker Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and other key space program officials looking on, Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1 after brief remarks, officially endorsing recommendations made by the newly reconstituted National Space Council under the direction of Vice President Mike Pence.

Both the president and the vice president said today that NASA's focus on its human spaceflight program will help create jobs for the country, and both men briefly mentioned the defense and military applications of the space program.

Trump signed the space policy on Monday, which also marked the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 17 mission, which was the last time humans walked on the moon. "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".

"A permanent presence on the moon and American boots on the surface Mars are not impossible", Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX's president, said in October; the company's founder, Elon Musk, has said his next rocket will be designed around visiting the moon as well as his beloved Mars. But the directive serves as an official rejection of the Obama administration's more open-ended space policy, putting the focus squarely back on the moon in the near term. But when a blue-ribbon committee reviewed human spaceflight in 2009, it said there was a mismatch between the scope of the program and the money available to support it: that exploring beyond low-Earth orbit wasn't going to be viable without billions of dollars more in funding.

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But the £750 million project was shelved by Barack Obama in 2009 after being deemed too costly as the attention shifted to reaching Mars by the 2030s.

According to the new directive, the NASA administrator will "lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and worldwide partners to enable human expansion across the Solar System and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities".

The goal of the new Moon missions would include "long-term exploration and use" of its surface.

"This is a giant step towards that inspiring future and reclaiming America's proud destination in space". In other words, sending humans into space has represented a nice projection of soft power, but it has not been essential to America's domestic and foreign policy aims. The European Space Agency has long argued in favor of a lunar village exploration concept.

"In pursuing these objectives, Mr. President, we will, as you said, enhance our national security and our capacity to provide for the common defense of the people of the United States of America". In signing "Space Policy Directive-1", Trump committed NASA to send humans back to the Moon and then on to Mars. The White House has nominated Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine.

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