Donald Trump would like to put humans back on the moon for the first time in 45 years. But first, he wants to send robots up there, Bloomberg is reporting.
The last man to walk on the moon was Eugene Cernan, who did so in 1972, at the end of the Apollo program (Apollo 17, to be exact). However, since that time, the space game has changed dramatically. No longer is there a need for a symbolic victory against the Soviets. Space exploration is largely privately-funded, and indeed private exploration may soon be all but entirely privately funded within a few decades. And most tellingly, the space community has now set its sights on Mars as the next goal.
However, the Trump administration announced this week that it wants to scale things back, just a bit, and at least for the immediate future (“immediate” being subject to interpretation in the space exploration business). Specifically, the administration wants to send robots up there as early as next year, with a view toward putting men (and/or women, of course) on the lunar surface within 10 years.
In fact, NASA had been looking at the moon even before Trump announced his administration’s new goals. As Inquisitr writer Alexandra Lozovschi wrote in May, the space agency has already announced plans to send robots to the lunar surface as early as 2019. And at least some of the cost would be borne by private enterprise, as NASA noted in a statement.
“As NASA shifts human exploration back to the Moon, U.S. commercial partnerships will be a key to expediting missions and building a sustainable presence on the lunar surface.”
Neil Armstrong on the verge of tears after first stepping on the Moon in July, 1969. pic.twitter.com/7QKhKtLlR3
— History Pics (@HlSTORYPlCS) June 18, 2018
So why the moon now (again)? For a couple of reasons, actually. The first reason is largely symbolic: We haven’t been on the surface in 45 years, and space exploration has come a long way since 1972. The second reason is more practical: The Earth’s only natural satellite could serve as a sort of “jumping-off point” for manned Mars missions. For one thing, there’s almost certainly liquid water up there – if we could get to it – and that water would be useful in creating rocket fuel.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine explained that, theoretically at least, the moon represents an early pit stop on the way to Mars.
“If we have the capability to generate rocket fuel from the surface of the Moon, and get them into orbit around the Moon, we could use that to build a fueling depot.”
Of course, both of those things take time and money, and NASA is flush with the former but woefully short on the latter.
As of this writing, the Trump administration has not given a budget estimate for the cost of any future lunar missions.