Speaking at the inaugural meeting of the National Space Council, Vice President Mike Pence confirmed a shift in goals for NASA towards putting humans back on the Moon.
This is a change from the policy of the previous administration, in which then-President Obama declared that America would focus on heading to Mars. However, despite these plans, the Associate Administrator of Human Exploration and Operations at NASA, William Gerstenmaier, announced back in July that with current budget limits, a mission to the red planet would be practically impossible:
I can’t put a date on humans on Mars, and the reason really is the other piece is, at the budget levels we described, this roughly 2 percent increase, we don’t have the surface systems available for Mars… And that entry, descent and landing is a huge challenge for us for Mars.
President Trump focused on reinvigorating NASA during the 2016 presidential campaign, and as such, reinstated the NSC with Pence heading it. The vice president had suggested earlier this year that a focus on the moon was more likely at a speech at the Kennedy Space Centre.
Pence highlighted that “human exploration and discovery” would be the new focus of the space program:
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… The Moon will be a stepping-stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America’s space program toward human space exploration.
He went on to discuss the possibility of using private space companies to assist NASA, with one example being to use their craft for low-earth orbit procedures, ensuring NASA could focus on deep space projects:
American companies are on the cutting edge of space technology, and they’re developing new rockets, spaceships, and satellites that will take us further into space faster than ever before… By fostering much stronger partnerships between the federal government and the realm of industry, and bringing the full force of our national interests to bear, American leadership in space will be assured
The meeting also included presentations from SpaceX, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin, who echoed Pence’s remarks. Gwynne Shotwell of SpaceX promoted the successful launches of their Falcon 9 rocket, and Boeing took a trip down memory lane, reminding attendees of their long history of co-operation with NASA in building the Space Shuttle and the ISS.
Above all, Pence stressed that the nation would no longer be behind the rest of the world in space exploration. “America seems to have lost our edge, and those days are over,” he said. No longer would American astronauts have to rely on Russian vehicles to send them back and forth from the ISS.