During a White House meeting with Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Space reports that Donald Trump spoke about NASA’s current goal of returning astronauts to the moon by 2024. According to Trump, the moon is just a “launching pad” for the end-goal: heading the Mars.
“We’re stopping at the moon. The moon is actually a launching pad,” he said. “That’s why we’re stopping at the moon. I said, ‘Hey, we’ve done the moon. That’s not so exciting.’ So we’ll be doing the moon. But we’ll really be doing Mars.”
NASA’s goal of landing on the moon by 2024 is part of its Artemis program. In addition, the space agency is also planning to create a station near the moon called the Lunar Gateway.
As for reaching Mars, Trump claims that NASA has made progress. He praised companies such as Elon Musk’s s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin — both of which have ambitious goals for space travel.
“And they’ve actually done very well. They’ve said they’ve had great success.”
Morrison claims that Australia is also looking to travel past the moon to Mars and back.
Trump appears to be fixated on heading to Mars. During an Oval Office address to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Trump couldn’t stop asking NASA’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, why astronauts couldn’t simply go to Mars without making a stop at the moon.
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“When we go to Mars, we’re going to have to be there for a long period of time, so we need to learn how to live and work on another world,” Bridenstine told Trump in response, per Politico.
He explained to Trump that it’s important that NASA stops at the moon to test out the agency’s life-supporting technologies, which will be crucial when astronauts spend extended periods of time on Mars.
According to the space community, humans will reach the red planet by the 2030s, but it won’t be an easy task. When Mars is closest to Earth, it’s approximately 35 million miles away, which is around 130 times the distance between the moon and Earth. The trip itself would take months, and since astronauts would need to wait for proper Mars-Earth alignment before returning, it would take years to complete.
In addition to the length of the trip to Mars, exposure to radiation is another setback and potential danger for astronauts heading to the planet. Not only that, Mars’ thin atmosphere makes it tricky for spacecraft to enter its environment.