Trump Bores In On Whether the Moon Is Really Needed Before Mars

Trump Bores In On Whether the Moon Is Really Needed Before Mars

Flanked by Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, President Trump pressed NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on why going back to the Moon is a necessary precursor for sending humans to Mars.  Aldrin and Collins are both Mars advocates who see no need to return to the Moon.  They and Neil Armstrong’s two sons were among those at the White House today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first human landing on the Moon.

Trump signed Space Policy Directive-1 (SPD-1) in December 2017, restoring the goal of landing astronauts back on the Moon and overturning the policy set by President Obama.  Obama eschewed the Moon in favor of focusing on getting humans to Mars in the 2030s.

On March 26, 2019, Vice President Pence doubled down on the Moon, announcing that it is U.S. policy to land the next man and the first woman on the Moon by 2024, just five years from now, with the longer term goal of reaching Mars.

But just 10 weeks later, and 25 days after he sent a budget amendment to Congress to support that plan, Trump surprised everyone by rebuking NASA for talking about the Moon instead of “bigger things” like Mars. In comments that echoed Obama’s in 2010, Trump said the Moon essentially is old news.

White House and NASA officials have sought to explain away the tweet by insisting that Trump continues to support Moon missions, but is impatient with the pace when the goal really is Mars.

Today’s exchange cannot help but renew either concern or hope, depending on one’s point of view, that the President is wavering on the Moon, however.

Bridenstine stepped up to the plate and explained why NASA is embarked on its present course, noting not only the need to test systems on the nearby Moon before venturing to distant Mars, but also that commercial companies are interested in the Moon.

Politico tweeted the video of the event.  It is difficult to tell from Trump’s reaction whether he was convinced, but he did praise Bridenstine’s service as NASA Administrator.  He also noted that choosing Bridenstine for the job was “not easy” because Bridenstine had not always voted in Trump’s favor when he was in Congress, but after they got to know each other “it was a whole different ball game.”

The Moon-by-2024 plan has been christened Artemis, Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology, underscoring NASA’s intent to include women on future Moon crews.  Bridenstine went from the White House to the National Mall where Apollo 50 celebrations are underway and rolled out the logo for Artemis.

With Earth Blue, Rocket Red and Lunar Silver for colors, every part of the identity has meaning: THE A: The A symbolizes an arrowhead from Artemis’ quiver and represents launch. TIP OF THE A: The tip of the A of Artemis points beyond the Moon and signifies that our efforts at the Moon are not the conclusion, but rather the preparation for all that lies beyond. EARTH CRESCENT: The crescent of the Earth at the bottom shows missions from humanity’s perspective. From Earth we go. Back to Earth all that we learn and develop will return. This crescent also visualizes Artemis’ bow as the source from which all energy and effort is sent. TRAJECTORY: The trajectory moves from left to right through the crossbar of the “A” opposite that of Apollo. Thus highlighting the distinct differences in our return to the Moon. The trajectory is red to symbolize our path to Mars. MOON: The Moon is our next destination and a stepping stone for Mars. It is the focus of all Artemis efforts.  Credit: NASA

Pence is flying down to Kennedy Space Center tomorrow, the 50th anniversary of the actual day — July 20, 1969 —  that Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon, to give remarks in the building that houses an Orion capsule.  The next crew to land on the Moon is scheduled to launch in an Orion spacecraft atop the Space Launch System (SLS) in 2024.  At least that is the plan as of right now.

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