Private astronauts may be flying commercial spaceships around the moon in just a few years thanks to a renewed public-private partnership in space championed by Donald Trump.
Memos from Donald Trump’s NASA transition team have proposed an internal competition to return American astronauts to the moon, transition to private space stations, and emphasize commercial development, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The space race didn’t receive a lot of attention during the presidential election, but Trump did promise to push public-private partnerships as a way to advance America’s standing in space while still reining in the budget.
In a memo to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Trump’s NASA transition team member Charles Miller suggested a competition between Old Space and New Space to find a way to get back to the moon, according to Inverse.
“If this initiative can be approved quickly by the White House, and appropriately funded, (there could be) private American astronauts, on private space ships, circling the moon by 2020.”
Returning to the moon would enable NASA to use the lunar surface as a proving ground to test out technology needed for a manned Mars mission. It would also allow commercial organization to mine valuable minerals and establish a commercial presence on the lunar surface, as Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, told the USA Today.
“Missions to the moon offer many opportunities for commercial and international cooperation with a wide variety of traditional and non-traditional partners. An international return to the moon would have great potential to strengthen U.S. space leadership and industrial capabilities in the near term.”
NASA’s budget this year is $19 billion with the agency’s largest projects, the Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule designed to transport astronauts to Mars, chiming in at $3.3 billion.
Trump, however, has vowed to cut federal spending levels, so these projects could face elimination in favor of cheaper private spacecraft built by SpaceX, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.
Congress, however, has vowed to protect NASA’s spaceship building projects and a new bill introduced to the Senate this week requires the space agency to develop a strategic plan to human boots on Martian soil.
The bill requires analysis and determination of intermediate missions prior to a manned Mars mission, an examination of an expanded presence in cis-lunar space, and a report on the development of the SLS and Orion. Rep. John Culberson told Space.com.
“Americans are at their best when they’re conquering new frontiers and this legislation ensures that NASA continues to push the boundaries of space exploration by landing an American astronaut on Mars.”
Space enthusiasts will have to wait and see whether Trump decides to cancel the SLS and Orion programs in favor of contracting out private spaceships as no official decision has been made yet.
Until then, armchair astronauts can look to commercial space travel companies for insight into the space race.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to launch a rocket every two weeks from its pad in Florida once the site opens next week to start working on the backlog of flights created after a Falcon 9 rocket exploded on its launch pad last year.
The privately held space travel company is also working to upgrade the turbopumps used in the Falcon 9 rocket engines after a government report found they have a tendency to crack under pressure.
Meanwhile, Boeing has announced it will use more than 600 3D printed parts instead of aluminum components on its Starliner space taxi to save on weight.
Moon Express, a private company committed to mining the moon, which has also vowed to win the Google’s Lunar X Prize, has raised $45 million in investment capital making it fully funded for a 2017 lunar expedition.
Do you think NASA’s SLS and Orion projects are needed for America to win the space race?
[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]