The past few years have been kind to space science in general and especially to NASA. Advancements in technology, monumental achievements, and historic phenomena has made being an astronaut and even a space scientist or engineer cool again. When Trump took the helm of the world’s largest superpower, there were worries that the outspoken president would de-emphasize the country’s space program. With a little indirect help from a rival, however, Trump signed a directive that would put Americans back on the moon and, in the future, on Mars as well.
There hasn’t been a human, American or otherwise, on the moon since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. And mankind certainly hasn’t been on Mars at all. You would presume that with all the attention that Mars is getting, it would be the US’ next big thing. Unfortunately, politics has a habit of getting in the way.
In 2010, then President Barrack Obama turned the attention away from the moon and Mars and towards sending humans to nearby asteroids. While it would indeed cover a greater distance, making it more monumental, it would, perhaps have less practical value in the long run. At first, it seemed that Trump would rather just ignore the space program altogether but, thanks to some claims coming from China, he decided otherwise. And in typical political fashion, he did it by undoing his predecessor’s policy.
Trump’s “Space Policy Directive 1” gets the ball rolling in putting an American back on the moon. This time, however, it won’t end with just a flag and a footprint or even a rock. It will serve as a foundation for a future Martian mission, something that probably tickled Elon Musk’s fancy. Perhaps not by coincidence, China’s own space agency revealed a few months back that it was making preparations to send a man to the moon.
And the moon is just the beginning of the two countries’ bigger ambitions, part of which might not be related to innocent space exploration. China’s space mission is directed by the country’s political and even military ambitions. Likewise, Trump was quoted to have said, without further exploration, that space has so much to do with many other applications, including military ones.
Cover photo courtesy of Reuters