Trump scales back NASA’s mission to Mars, focuses on the moon instead

12 Dec 2017

Image: taffpixture/Shutterstock

US president Donald Trump is scaling back his predecessor’s promise to send humans to Mars in the short term, saying a moon base has greater priority.

In 2016, former US president Barack Obama had hoped to rekindle the spirit of the famous speech of another former US president, John F Kennedy, by calling on NASA to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

“We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time,” he wrote.

However, there’s a new president in town and he is now calling on the US space agency to shift its priorities from the Red Planet to Earth’s largest satellite on the 45th anniversary of the last moon-landing mission, Apollo 17.

With the signing of the White House Space Policy Directive 1, US president Donald Trump’s plans for NASA will see a focused effort between government, private industry and international bodies towards returning humans to the moon.

Once this has been achieved, only then will the US send astronauts to Mars, and possibly further.

Trump signing

US president Donald Trump signing the Presidential Space Directive 1. Image: Aubrey Gemignani/NASA

NASA also confirmed that it is now ditching any plans to send humans to land on an asteroid, a dream the space agency has held for decades.

Trump said: “This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints; we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and, perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond.”

The decision to shift focus away from Mars has been expected for some time, with one NASA director admitting in July that the space agency simply cannot afford to send humans to the planet right now.

In October, US vice-president Mike Pence also re-established the National Space Council, an executive group comprising political and business leaders to focus the country’s space efforts in the face of international challengers.

While the space race was once a competition between two superpowers, an increasing number of major international players have made promises to establish bases on the moon, particularly Europe and China.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic