Trump directs NASA to send astronauts to moon, Mars
President Donald Trump directed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to send American astronauts back to the moon and eventually to Mars, shifting the agency’s mission from the study of Earth.
Trump signed a directive to the NASA administrator outlining the new mission on Monday. Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement that the new policy reflects recommendations from the National Space Council, a White House advisory panel Trump appointed earlier in the year.
The White House didn’t provide details about how NASA’s work to return to the moon would be funded, or whether any current programs would be cut.
The president “will change our nation’s human spaceflight policy to help America become the driving force for the space industry, gain new knowledge from the cosmos, and spur incredible technology,” Gidley said.
In September, Trump nominated Representative Jim Bridenstine, a Republican from Oklahoma, to be the next NASA administrator. Bridenstine, who if confirmed would be the first elected official to head the agency, is known as an advocate for bringing private companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX into NASA’s work.
SpaceX launches rockets for customers including NASA, commercial satellite operators and the U.S. military. On Tuesday morning, the closely-held company is slated to fire off a Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft laden with cargo supplies destined for the International Space Station, in what will be the company’s 17th mission of the year. Musk, 46, served on Trump’s early advisory councils until June of this year, when he parted ways with the administration over Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accords.
When the U.S. retired the space shuttle program in 2011, NASA turned to private industry to fill in the gap when it comes to human space flight. SpaceX and Boeing both have billion-dollar contracts to send American astronauts to the space station, with the first key tests of the technology slated for 2018. Musk has also announced plans to send paying tourists on flights around the moon.
In the signing ceremony at the White House on Monday, Trump called the directive “very exciting and very important for our country,” adding that “it also happens to be jobs.”
(Updates with commercial space context from sixth paragraph.)
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