Donald Trump just sent a clear message that he plans to reinvigorate America’s space program and send a message to the world that we plan to dominate space once again.
The message was eerily similar to the one JFK famously sent out when he became president: Send men to the moon by the end of my first term.
Of course with JFK, we had never been to the moon before. No one had. With Trump, it’s somewhat similar. After sending astronauts to the moon, NASA and the government seemed to lose interest, letting the Russians and Chinese take the lead.
President Trump just made it very clear that expanding the space program is an important component of his administration. I love a guy who thinks BIG! After all, if you’re thinking anyway, you might as well think BIG!
Here are more details from The Washington Post:
President Trump has indicated that he wants to make a splash in space. During his transition, he spoke with historian Douglas Brinkley about John F. Kennedy’s famous 1961 vow to go to the moon before the decade was out. Now Trump and his aides may do something very similar: demand that NASA send astronauts to orbit the moon before the end of Trump’s first term — a move that one Trump adviser said would be a clear signal to the Chinese that the U.S. intends to retain dominance in space.
NASA already has a plan to launch its new, jumbo Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with an Orion capsule on top in late 2018, a mission known as EM-1. No one would be aboard. The capsule would orbit the moon and return to Earth, splashing down in the ocean.
This is intended as the first test flight of SLS and part of the integration of the new rocket and new capsule. Significantly, the SLS and Orion are both still under construction.
According to current plans, a crewed mission, EM-2, would not be launched until several years later under the NASA timeline — certainly not during Trump’s current term. That crewed mission would also orbit the moon.
But on Wednesday, NASA’s acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, sent a letter to employees saying he’d instructed the top NASA official for human spaceflight, associate administrator William Gerstenmaier, to explore the feasibility of adding astronauts to the EM-1 flight.
Lightfoot wrote: “I know the challenges associated with such a proposition, like reviewing the technical feasibility, additional resources needed, and clearly the extra work would require a different launch date. That said, I also want to hear about the opportunities it could present to accelerate the effort of the first crewed flight and what it would take to accomplish that first step of pushing humans farther into space.”
This is, by NASA standards, a bombshell announcement, because major missions involving new hardware and astronauts are typically planned many years in advance. Rush jobs are not NASA’s way.
At the same time, NASA officials and space policy experts understand that Trump wants to do something dramatic. Scott Pace, head of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said earlier this week, “There is strong interest in finding significant near-term accomplishments that can be done in the first term.”
Bob Walker, an adviser to the Trump transition team and a former congressman who chaired the House Science Committee, said Tuesday: “What I hear being discussed is the potential for sometime within the first Trump term being able to go and do an Apollo 8 mission” — meaning a lunar orbit mission like the one performed by Apollo 8 in December 1968.
“This would be another precursor to ultimately landing. And I think sometime within a second Trump term, you could think about putting a landing vehicle on the moon,” Walker said.
“It’s also a demonstration of our technological competence. At some point, I think the Chinese need to awaken to the fact that the U.S. does intend to maintain its pre-eminence in space. I can guarantee you that if we don’t go ahead and do a program like this, the Chinese are headed in that direction.”
But Walker did not say such a mission would necessarily have to use NASA’s SLS rocket and Orion capsule. Entrepreneurial space companies, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeffrey P. Bezos’s Blue Origin, are planning their own heavy-lift rockets. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Newt Gingrich, an influential adviser to Trump when it comes to space issues, is among those pushing for a more entrepreneurial space program. In an email to The Washington Post, Gingrich, who said he was on a trip to Antarctica, blasted NASA for becoming an agency that avoids risk, and said the space program should leverage the enthusiasm and money of the many billionaires interested in commercializing space.
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