President Trump issued a directive to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) today to send American astronauts back to the moon and eventually to Mars, shifting the agency’s mission from the study of Earth and a longer-range plan to explore Mars.
“The directive I’m signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” said President Trump. “It marks an important step for returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use this time… We will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars.”
President Trump said the new directive for NASA would focus on establishing a permanent outpost on the moon as a stepping stone to Mars, and perhaps to other places as well.
“Imagine the possibility waiting in those big beautiful stars if we dare to dream big. That’s what our country is doing again, we’re dreaming big,” the President said. “This is a giant step toward that inspiring future and toward reclaiming America’s proud destiny in space and space has so much to do with so many other applications including a military application.”
In June, President Trump signed an executive order re-establishing the National Space Council, a space policy advisory body that was last active some 25 years ago. Vice President Pence serves as Chairman of the National Space Council and was present for today’s announcement.
Vice President Pence applauded the president’s order, saying that “signing the space policy directive” will ensure “America will lead in space once again.” Vice President Pence said the order will “enhance our national security and our capacity to provide for the common defense of the people of the United States.” The Vice President added, “You are ensuring Mr. President, that America will lead in space in the future and for generations to come.”
The policy grew from a unanimous recommendation by the new National Space Council after its first meeting on October 5. In addition to the direction to plan for human return to the Moon, the policy also ends NASA’s existing effort to send humans to an asteroid. The president revived the National Space Council in July to advise and help implement his space policy with exploration as a national priority.
The new directive was signed in a signing ceremony in the White House, where the President and Vice President were surrounded by National Space Council members as well as NASA astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. In attendance at the signing Monday were astronauts Jack Schmitt, who walked on the moon as part of Apollo 17 45 years ago this week, and Peggy Whitson and Christina Koch. Whitson broke many space records in her career with NASA; she has spent more time in space — 665 cumulative days — than any other U.S. astronaut, and more than any woman of any nationality. She was the first female chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office and the first woman to command the International Space Station, something she’s done twice. At 57, she is America’s oldest working astronaut and has logged more time walking in space more than any other female astronaut, with a cumulative total of 32 hours and 36 minutes over 10 spacewalks. Koch is a NASA astronaut of the class of 2013; she was previously the NOAA Station Chief for American Samoa.
“NASA looks forward to supporting the President’s directive strategically aligning our work to return humans to the Moon, travel to Mars and opening the deeper solar system beyond,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “This work represents a national effort on many fronts, with America leading the way. 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.”
A piece of Moon rock was brought to the White House as a reminder of the exploration history and American successes at the Moon on which the new policy will build. Lunar Sample 70215 was retrieved from the Moon’s surface and returned by Schmitt’s Apollo 17 crew. Apollo 17 was the last Apollo mission to land astronauts on the Moon and returned with the greatest amount of rock and soil samples for investigation.