Science

Space Policy Directive 1: NASA Told To Return To The Moon

President Trump has signed Space Policy Directive 1, which states that NASA must go back to the Moon and eventually send astronauts to Mars as well. He said the directive turns the focus of the nation’s space program to “human exploration and discovery.”

space policy directive 1
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Trump signs Space Policy Directive 1

Harrison Schmitt, an astronaut on Apollo 17, stood by the president while he signed Space Policy Directive 1. According to NPR, this week marks 45 years since he walked on the moon, and since then, no humans have flown past low-Earth orbit. Schmitt was one of the last two people to walk on the moon.

One of NASA’s biggest barriers to space exploration right now is the lack of transportation. The agency retired its space shuttles in 2011, and American astronauts rely on Russian capsules to ferry them to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX and Boeing were awarded contracts with NASA to take over for Russia in transporting the agency’s astronauts in the coming years, although problems have plagued both companies’ efforts and caused delays.

First the moon, then Mars

Under Space Policy Directive 1, the moon is seen as a stepping stone toward the ultimate goal of Mars exploration. The Trump administration takes this stance, as explained by Vice President Pence in October. However, Space Policy Directive 1 is currently only an empty order without the funds to back it up. In order to do that, Congress will have to appropriate the funds to do it.

Budget problems has been on ongoing issue for NASA for years. President George W. Bush ordered a moon base to be built and for humans to live there for extended periods. However, NPR reports that billions of dollars more in funds was needed in order to fund the program.

SpaceX is making progress

Also today, SpaceX is preparing to send a Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship—both of which have been flown before—to the ISS tomorrow to deliver supplies and equipment. It will also be the fourth time Elon Musk’s private spaceflight business has flown a recovered first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket, according to CBS News. It’s the first time SpaceX has done this for NASA, however, and it’s the second time SpaceX has launched a Dragon ship that has flown before.

The Falcon  will take off from Cape Canaveral just before noon Eastern on Tuesday, and meteorologists say there’s a 90% chance the weather will be favorable. The launch will be the first one off complex 40 since the company’s Falcon 9 exploded during a preflight test last year.