By Chelsey B. Coombs Dec 11, 2017
President Trump’s governance has rattled a new and unexpected faction of Americans — people who really want to go to Mars.
Trump on Monday signed Space Policy Directive 1, also known as SPD-1, directing NASA to send Americans back to the moon. But Mars proponents are worried the moon directive will ground their efforts.
“The directive I’m signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” Trump said. “It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use.”
A journey to Mars, which NASA has had tentative plans to accomplish since the 1970s, seems to be more of an afterthought for the president.
“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,” he said.
Chris Carberry is the CEO of the non-profit group Explore Mars, which aims to send humans to Mars within the next 20 years. While he’s glad a mission to Mars was mentioned in SPD-1, he notes there’s no apparent plan for NASA to make both a mission to the moon and a mission to Mars happen.
“We’ve never been opposed to going to the moon, it’s just finding that proper balance,” Carberry said. “Can we find a way within what the available budget will be to go to the moon and go to Mars without delaying Mars to the later part of the century?”
A NASA press release said budgetary information won’t be available until NASA releases their 2019 budget next year.
“Obviously with enough money we could get both [Mars and moon missions] done in a reasonable period of time, but that remains a big if,” Carberry said.
SPD-1 came from a unanimous October recommendation by the National Space Council, which was relaunched in June this year after being disbanded in 1993. Vice President Mike Pence chairs the commission, which is mainly made up of Trump cabinet members, along with acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot, Jr.
“We will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” Pence said in that October meeting.
The 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which was passed with bipartisan Congressional support and signed by Trump in March, does make it a goal to get humans to Mars by 2033.
But with the space shuttle program discontinued in 2011, a viable way to get American astronauts above low-earth orbit may be difficult. A White House press release on SPD-1 said, “In the coming years the United States will launch astronauts on an American-made rocket and crew system, the Space Launch System and Orion crew vehicles.”
But the completion date for the Space Launch System has continually been pushed back, and the SLS may not make its maiden voyage until 2020.
Proponents say prioritizing moon exploration will be helpful for future Mars missions to not only test new technology, but also build lunar fuel depots on the surface of the moon. But the moon isn’t a direct analog to Mars in terms of its atmosphere and surface, and Carberry said that strategy may delay the Mars mission significantly.
“I guarantee if we wait until we build lunar fuel depots on the surface of the moon before we go to Mars, we won’t be going to Mars until the latter part of the century or beyond,” Carberry said.
Carberry is holding out hope that a human moon landing won’t derail NASA’s 2033 Mars goal.
“If they can provide a budget and the right partnerships, we won’t turn the moon into a roadblock to Mars, but something that truly is an enabler,” Carberry said. “That’s more easily said than done.”
[Editor’s note: President Trump signed SPD-1 at 3 p.m. Eastern during a brief ceremony at the White House]
Updated 9:55 a.m. Eastern.
NEW ORLEANS — President Donald Trump is scheduled to sign his administration’s first space policy directive in a White House ceremony Dec. 11, one that will formally direct NASA to send humans back to the moon.
A White House schedule of the president’s activities, released late Dec. 10, includes a 3 p.m. Eastern “signing ceremony for Space Policy Directive 1.” The schedule didn’t provide additional details about the event or the document, but a White House official later confirmed that the directive is linked to human space exploration policy.
“The president, today, will sign Space Policy Directive 1 (SPD-1) that directs the NASA Administrator to lead an innovative space exploration program to send American astronauts back to the Moon, and eventually Mars,” Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said in an statement Dec. 11.
The directive, Gidley said, was prompted by initial work of the National Space Council, which was reconstituted by the president in a June 30 executive order and held its first public meeting Oct. 5. “The president listened to the National Space Council’s recommendations and he will change our nation’s human spaceflight policy to help America become the driving force for the space industry, gain new knowledge from the cosmos, and spur incredible technology,” he said.
The event will coincide with the 45th anniversary of the last crewed mission to land on the moon. The Apollo 17 lunar lander touched down on the moon on Dec. 11, 1972. Statements from administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, has have made clear their interest in human lunar missions.
“We will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” Pence said at the first meeting of the reconstituted National Space Council Oct. 5 at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center.
Pence, at that meeting, directed NASA to provide a 45-day report on plans to carry out such missions. “The Council is going to need the whole team at NASA to work with the Office of Management and Budget to provide the president with a recommended plan to fill that policy,” Pence told NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot at the meeting.
Lightfoot, speaking at a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council Dec. 7, said the agency had delivered a version of the report on those plans to the Council. “We continue to work with the Space Council on that action, and they’re reviewing the preliminary draft of that now,” he said. “Once that report becomes more final, we’ll share more information.”
Some space advocates fear that a renewed emphasis on a human return to the moon could delay plans for eventual human missions to Mars. At a Dec. 7 briefing by Explore Mars, a Mars advocacy group that recently held the fifth in a series of workshops on affordable Mars mission architectures, representatives said they were not opposed to human lunar missions provided they fit into a broader plan that supported Mars missions as well.
“The one thing we want to make sure is to follow the guidelines that the National Academies set out in their ‘Pathways’ report, which is don’t go down any dead ends,” said Joe Cassady, a member of the board of directors of Explore Mars, referring to the 2014 “Pathways to Exploration” report by the National Academies that examined the various approaches to human missions to the moon, Mars and asteroids.
“Anything we do there should have a feed-forward component that takes us in the direction of Mars,” he said of any lunar missions.
NASA’s planning for the Deep Space Gateway, a cislunar outpost, could support lunar missions while also laying the groundwork for expeditions to Mars, he said. “You can envision that, with partners, surface exploration can be undertaken utilizing the gateway.”
Congress has already offered its view of NASA exploration priorities in the form of NASA authorization legislation. The latest NASA authorization, signed into law in March, endorses a “stepping stone approach to exploration” with “missions to intermediate destinations in sustainable steps” while maintaining a long-term goal of human missions to Mars.
That bill directed NASA to develop an “initial exploration roadmap” that outlined its plans, to be delivered to Congress by Dec. 1. A separate provision instructed NASA to perform an independent assessment of the feasibility of a human mission to Mars specifically in 2033, due 180 days after the bill’s enactment in March. NASA has not announced the status of either report.
Those reports, and the administration’s actions, have given space exploration advocates some hope for a more detailed strategy for human missions beyond Earth orbit, be they to the moon or Mars. Jeff Bingham, a former Senate staffer, said at the Explore Mars event that the National Space Council can play a key role in creating a “final consensus” on those plans.
“I think we’re coming close now to an opportunity that I think was presented by the more recent legislation that Congress passed,” he said, referring to the roadmap provision in the 2017 authorization act.
President Donald Trump wants to see U.S. astronauts return to the Moon as a foundation for future Mars missions.
Trump signed a policy directive Monday instructing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to “refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery.”
The move, Trump said, “marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972 for long-time exploration.”
“This time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint,” he said. “We will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond.”
NASA’s goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
Chris Carberry, executive director of Explore Mars, a non-profit organization that aims to advance the goal of sending humans to Mars within the next two decades, welcomed the policy directive and urged the administration to drive space exploration over the coming years. “We are certainly happy that Mars remains a key element of US space policy,” to told Fox News, via email. “However, we also hope that a plan can [be] devised that will enable humanity to return to the Moon, but not delay Mars missions by decades.”
Explore Mars, he explained, is a strong proponent of building strong commercial and international partnerships to enable lunar missions, while at the same time, allowing the U.S. to lead missions to Mars in the 2030s. “We hope that this signing will help to accelerate our return to deep space exploration.”
Under the directive, the government is expected to work closely with other nations and private industry.
The last time a human set foot on the Moon was during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. Only 12 men, all Americans, have set foot on the Moon.
Vice President Mike Pence also highlighted the economic impact of the policy directive Monday. “We will see jobs created that you couldn’t even imagine,” he said, during the White House signing ceremony.
The space policy directive ensures that America will lead in space once again, he added.
Trump and Pence were joined at the White House by several current and former astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, and former U.S. Sen. and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, the next-to-last person on the Moon.
Monday marks the 45th anniversary of the Moon landing by Schmitt and Eugene Cernan, the Apollo 17 commander. Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, died earlier this year at the age of 82.
Past presidents, including George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, have also proposed returning to the Moon and missions to Mars but budget constraints derailed their plans.
The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers
Boeing lunar lander
A human return to the Moon could be done with commercial or international capabilities, without jeopardizing a government-led humans-to-Mars program. (credit: Boeing)
Moon or Mars: Why not both?
by Chris Carberry, Joe Cassady, and Rick Zucker
Monday, September 25, 2017
The Trump Administration has an unprecedented opportunity to set the United States on a path that would exceed President John F. Kennedy’s legendary challenge to our nation to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth. Through a combination of innovative thinking, public-private partnerships, and new incentives, commercial (and potentially international) activities on the surface of the Moon may very well be stimulated, while simultaneously moving forward with sending initial human missions to the surface of Mars by the early 2030s.
As an example, earlier this year President Trump signed into law the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which contains the strongest language requiring human missions to Mars ever to be placed in a piece of legislation. This bipartisan bill was enacted after many years of growing momentum and consensus building.
Unfortunately, recently there has been a worrisome drumbeat emanating from some quarters that calls for the United States to return to the Moon at the expense of Mars. That is, some of these voices have advocated sidelining Mars indefinitely. To abandon Mars as the overarching goal of United States space policy, however, would be a huge mistake, and in the end, it could very well undermine lunar aspirations as well.
We should not be asking ourselves, “Should we go to the Moon or to Mars?” Instead, we should be asking, “How can we achieve both goals?” Advocates for a return to the Moon and advocates for human missions to Mars are often portrayed as though they adhere to diametrically opposed ideologies, but this is not accurate. The divide between these groups is artificial and results from limited budgets and inconsistent policy. In fact, the vast majority of people in the space industry, advocacy, and other relevant arenas share the same overarching goal, to have humanity move beyond low Earth orbit once again.
Commercial and international interest in lunar exploration and utilization has been steadily growing for years, and we welcome the participation of commercial lunar operators, who have argued that the Moon presents potential business opportunities. Assuming that a business case can be made for such activities, such proposals conform well to our longstanding view that NASA’s role should be to establish the outer boundaries and push the frontiers of human exploration, for which Mars is the acknowledged horizon goal.
While commercial interests can and should follow behind NASA, such enterprises, in order to be successful, must utilize space in a manner that produces sufficient profits that will justify the investment made in such pursuits. This includes paying the costs associated with developing the necessary landers, mining equipment, other infrastructure, and so on. That commercial interests have expressed a willingness to step up and spend their own funds to explore the potential of lunar resources bodes well for the further success of public-private partnerships in space. Mars exploration craft could provide commercial lunar interests with a ready market for their lunar-produced products, such as hydrogen and oxygen if commercial lunar enterprises can show that they are able to produce and deliver such products at a reasonable price.
The debate that has occurred between the two as to the “next destination” in space is the result of budgetary constraints and lack of political will, but in reality, the two are not mutually exclusive.
However, these commercial activities must not become a barrier or prerequisite for going to Mars. NASA’s efforts to develop Mars capabilities in the lunar orbital environment can help facilitate these commercial partners’ goal of reaching the lunar surface. These are but two examples of how the commercial sector can participate and benefit from NASA’s planned Mars development, such as through a resource like the Deep Space Gateway.
This unified process would unite supporters and stakeholders of both Mars exploration and lunar surface activities. The debate that has occurred between the two as to the “next destination” in space is the result of budgetary constraints and lack of political will, but in reality, the two are not mutually exclusive. Given the choice, most people in the space exploration community would not reject an opportunity to achieve both goals (and more) as long as both can be accomplished in a timely and sustainable manner.
The United States is well-positioned to once again venture beyond the confines of Low Earth Orbit and continue where the Apollo program left off, but key decisions need to be made in the near term, consistent and adequate budgets need to be maintained, and space policy must remain focused and objective oriented. With a mandate from the Administration and Congress, NASA along with our nation’s commercial and international partners can lead us into a pivotal and epic new age in human history.
Chris Carberry is CEO, Explore Mars, Inc. Joe Cassady is Executive Vice President, Explore Mars, Inc. Rick Zucker is Vice President, Policy, Explore Mars, Inc.