NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a televised conference on Thursday that, when the United States returns to the Moon, astronauts will not just be leaving “flags and footprints,” Space Flight Insider is reporting.
Bridenstine was referring to the Apollo missions, the last of which was Apollo 17 in 1972, during which American astronauts stayed briefly on the Moon and then returned home — what Bridenstine refers to as “flags and footprints.” Future missions to the Moon will be more long-term, perhaps even permanent, he says.
“We all look back fondly on Apollo, [a] critically important mission for our country, but when it was over, we didn’t go back to the Moon. We left flags and footprints, and this time when we go, we’re going to go to stay.”
Three times since the end of the Apollo program have presidential administrations made moves at returning to the Moon. There was the Space Exploration Initiative of the late 1980s and the Vision for Space Exploration in the 2000s, neither of which got off the ground.
The latest such attempts to return Americans to the Moon were announced by the Trump administration. As reported by the Inquisitr, Trump has his sights set on the Earth’s only natural satellite, but he wants to send robots up there first.
There are several differences between the current space-exploration climate and that of the ’60s and ’70s. For starters, there is no longer a “Space Race” requiring herculean effort to get a man on the Moon before the Soviets. That gives NASA more time to focus on strategy, cost-cutting, and planning.
For another thing, private industry has now entered the space-exploration game. NASA is currently cooperating with privately funded space-exploration companies, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and has begun using privately funded reusable rockets.
And finally, the Moon is seen as merely a pit stop in terms of a longer-term goal: getting humans on Mars. If a permanent or semi-permanent colony could be installed up there, spacecraft could leave Earth for the Moon, refuel there, and then head to Mars.
Bridenstine’s vision is even bolder.
“We want reusable tugs to go from Earth orbit to lunar orbit, we want space station’s around the Moon that can be there for a very long period of time, and we want landers that go back and forth from that space station—or eventually space stations—we want those landers to go back and forth over and over again, reusing the landers themselves. This, ultimately, is how we create this architecture for a sustainable return to the Moon.”
As of this writing, it remains unclear when, or even if, NASA will be able to put another person on the surface of the Moon.