In December, Trump signed a directive that shifts NASA’s focus from the 2030s mission to Mars to instead the establishment of a “foundation” on the Moon. A month later, the space agency still doesn’t know any details about this plan. There were no discussions of timescales or costs, so the plan is currently as vague as it can be.
The directive calls upon the NASA administrator to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.”
There has been no announcement of either commercial or international partners. Also, there is currently no NASA administrator. NASA has never gone without a formal administrator for this long before.
NASA’s acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, told The Washington Post that details will emerge in NASA’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request coming out later this year. This leaves a huge gap of time where the agency is actually uncertain about its human exploration goals.
When asked about details of the moon program, he said: “We have no idea, yet.” The Bush administration told NASA to focus on Moon missions. President Obama set the agency on its Journey to Mars path. Now, the attention is back on our natural satellite.
“We’re always asked to change directions every time we get a new president, and that just causes you to do negative work, work that doesn’t matter,” former astronaut Scott Kelly, told The Washington Post. “I just hope someday we’ll have a president that will say, ‘You know what, we’ll just leave NASA on the course they are on, and see what NASA can achieve if we untie their hands.’”
Not everyone agrees with this. Lori Garver, the NASA deputy administrator during President Barack Obama’s first term, points out that changes to the space agency direction are just democracy and that implementing the new plans wouldn’t be a waste of time. She points out how the technology tested for the Journey to Mars, like the Orion Capsule and the Space Launch System, could be equally employed to a lunar mission.
The European and Russian Space agencies are collaborating on the construction of a lunar base. While no formal date has been announced, the drafted plans so far suggest that it might be a reality before the year 2030.