Trump signs new space policy directive, making Moon 1st priority again


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Yawn. President Trump today signed a new space policy directive that makes the Moon the U.S.’s first exploration priority again.

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” said President Trump. “It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use. 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.”

As I wrote above, yawn. Same old same old. In 2004 Bush declared we will go to the Moon. In 2010 Obama declared we will go to an asteroid. In 2017 Trump declares we will go to the Moon.

In all those years, where have we actually gone? Nowhere. The government’s effort during all that time to build a rocket and a manned spacecraft to do any of this stuff has come up completely empty. Neither will carry humans into space for at least another five years, if not longer.

The only thing these empty promises have accomplished is to waste a god-awful amount of taxpayer money, now about $33 billion, with appropriations likely to increase that to more that $43 billion before that first manned SLS/Orion flight.

I predict that this government promise will come up empty as well, at least in the manner the government and NASA is trying to sell it. It won’t be the government rocket and capsule that will get us back to the Moon, but a host of new private companies, making profits and doing things efficiently and fast, that will get us there. And I am firmly confident that they will do it before the government even gets off the ground.

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14 comments

  • mike shupp

    I sort of agree — governments anywhere in the world really aren’t eager to create brand new commitments to anything, so the space programs that actually bring humans to the Moon and elsewhere for more than a quick “flag and footsteps” photo op are probably going to be created and funded and run by commercial firms. But those firms are going to need to see something that makes a profit — which means we need to overhaul the Outer Space Treaty, or at least scream to the heavens that parts of it are never going to be enforced. And nobody’s done this yet.

  • Localfluff

    He didn’t even appoint a new NASA administrator.

  • mike shupp

    An administrator was nominated a couple months back — a retiring Republican Congressman from Oklahoma named Bridenstine. Former Navy pilot, one-time owner of a Rocket League franchise, one-time head of a state space museum. generally well regarded. Dems didn’t like him because he was pretty frosty about the notion of Global Warming four or five years back. But he survived hearings and the Senate had been expected to vote him in on — ta ta! — December 11, but that fell down when the Senate got preoccupied by tax cuts. Give it a couple of weeks.

  • Localfluff wrote, “He didn’t even appoint a new NASA administrator.”

    You are incorrect. Trump has named a new NASA administrator. However, his pick must be approved by the Senate, which has not yet acted on his nomination.

  • erkforbee

    OSIRIS-REx is headed for an asteroid right now…scheduled for return, with rocks, 2023. Your (RZ’s) “Nowhere” comment is too absolute, not justified.

  • erkforbee: I am talking about manned spaceflight, which I think should have been obvious, especially because I was commenting on Trump’s space policy directive, which is also focused on manned spaceflight, not planetary missions.

  • mkent

    Robert: I think you may be too pessimistic. It may amount to nothing, but it might actually stick this time. Much will depend on the confirmation (or not) of Bridenstine in the Senate, which probably depends on the outcome of the election in Alabama today. If Moore wins and Bridenstine and DeWitt are confirmed, we may see some real change. Probably not dramatic change, but real change.

    If the above things happen we’ll have a pretty good idea of the direction things will go with the release of the FY19 budget request in February.

  • mkent

    ” If Moore wins and Bridenstine and DeWitt are confirmed…”

    Well, that was quick. The Jones victory puts Trump’s NASA nominations in serious jeopardy and with it Trump’s overall NASA policy. Trump may still try to push through some changes with his FY19 budget, but it would probably have to be driven by OMB without anyone inside NASA championing it. That’s going to be tough.

    The swamp wins again, alas.

  • mike shupp

    Nah, other than Lightfoot, the acting NASA Administrator, there’s no plausible contender for the post than Bridenstine. People seem to like the guy personally on both sides of the aisle, and the job’s not so prominent and charged with authority that it merits much political controversy. No one expects that Bridenstine is going to singlehandedly lay off a third of NASA’s workforce or close down field centers, in the manner of Scott Pruit or Rex Tillerson. He’s not loyal to the sacred Democrat cause of opposing man-caused global warming, I concede, but I suspect that Mike Griffin and Sean O’Keefe — former NASA Administrators — were not as well, and somehow the agency survived.

    So. I expect the Senate, with its present make-up, will confirm Bridenstine before adjourning for Christmas, or early next year with maybe one or two Democrats giving him their blessing.

  • wayne

    the signing presentation is here:
    https://www.c-span.org/video/?438442-1/president-trump-signs-space-policy-directive

    I don’t follow this too closely & definitely don’t know all the Player’s, but –does the makeup of the audience at this event, signal anything, to those who are in-the-know? (or just pure PR?)

  • Wayne: To answer your question, the makeup of the audience does signal something in today’s Soviet-style Washington culture. In fact, that you ask proves how much like the Soviet Union we have become, in that citizens are trying to find out what is going on by analyzing such vague irrelevancies, just as was done in the Soviet era for the Soviet leadership. Their government representatives really don’t represent them anymore, so asking direct questions will rarely get you an honest answer.

  • mkent

    “I expect the Senate, with its present make-up, will confirm Bridenstine before adjourning for Christmas, or early next year with maybe one or two Democrats giving him their blessing.”

    I recently read — maybe it was on NASA Watch — that the Democratic party leadership has decreed that all Democrats must oppose Bridenstine. Previous to that several Democrats were going to support him, more than offsetting the two Republicans (McCain and Rubio) opposed to him.

    With McCain and Rubio opposed, the Bridenstine nomination would then have been a 50-50 tie with Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote before yesterday’s election. Now, Bridenstine will lose 49-51 if his nomination were to come to a vote.

    With no other plausible contender for the post publicly identified, it’s quite possible former MSFC director Lightfoot will remain in the post indefinitely. That would lock in a major SLS guardian in the top spot at NASA. Without someone like DeWitt at treasurer, I doubt any other major reforms are possible at NASA either. The swamp knows how to resist.

    Note: I didn’t expect Bridenstine to have cancelled SLS even if he got confirmed. But I do think he would have been able to peel off enough funding from it to establish a commercially based manned lunar program. Alas, it is not to be.

  • wayne

    Mr. Z.,
    Yow– that is a wake-up call!

    I totally allowed myself to get sucked into that frame of mind, and it felt so ‘natural’ to do so, as-if it had always been that way. (It’s worse than I thought, and I expect calamity to befall us sooner rather than later.)

    George Orwell – A Final Warning
    https://youtu.be/JXm5hklbBsA
    2:00

  • Edward

    mkent wrote: “Robert: I think you may be too pessimistic.

    I agree. The Deep Space Gateway seems to have survived the transition, so I suspect that it will be too far along for the next president to cancel easily. Also, it looks like the next president will come into office with an SLS rocket that will need a mission, and there will be too much invested in lunar activities (DSG or lunar landing) to cancel easily. Congress may be further on board than they were for Constellation, and they refused to let that die. These are just some of the arguments for NASA to continue back to the Moon.

    Private companies are getting serious about going back to the Moon for resources, so with or without NASA, US manned missions will likely be headed there during the ’20s. Congress and NASA are likely to be eager to tag along, if for no other reason than to save face. Mere private companies doing what an entire nation (and NASA) can no longer manage to do? How embarrassing.

    It was only 15 years ago that only nations — and not many of those — were able to put a man into even suborbital space, now Blue Origin, Boeing, and SpaceX (and maybe Sierra Nevada) are on schedule to go beyond suborbital and into orbital manned missions, two of them before the end of this decade.

    Commercial space is very innovative, and it is starting to move fast, rapidly catching up to — and sometimes surpassing — the capabilities of entire nations. If those nations do not make their own advancements quickly, commercial space will soon be king, and NASA, Congress, and other governments will be chasing them rather than the other way around.

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