Trump Sending Astronauts Back to the Moon

President Donald Trump is sending astronauts back to the Moon.

The president Monday signed at the White House Space Policy Directive 1, a change in national space policy that provides for a U.S.-led, integrated program with private sector partners for a human return to the Moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond.

President Donald Trump signs the Presidential Space Directive – 1, directing NASA to return to the moon, alongside members of the Senate, Congress, NASA, and commercial space companies in the Roosevelt room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

The policy calls for the NASA administrator to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.” The effort will more effectively organize government, private industry, and international efforts toward returning humans on the Moon, and will lay the foundation that will eventually enable human exploration of Mars.

“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.”

The policy grew from a unanimous recommendation by the new National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, after its first meeting Oct. 5. In addition to the direction to plan for human return to the Moon, the policy also ends NASA’s existing effort to send humans to an asteroid. The president revived the National Space Council in July to advise and help implement his space policy with exploration as a national priority.

Two members of the BASALT project, a NASA Mars-analog mission, conduct a high-fidelity, simulated exploration of basaltic (lava-rock) terrain. The geology of their actual location – Kilauea Iki crater on Hawaii Island – is similar to basalt-rich landscapes found on Mars (see below). This provides a good training ground for the group conducting research, designing procedures, and developing tools to make similar missions possible one day on Mars. Pictured are: Stan Love, a NASA astronaut from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Alex Sehlke, a post-doctoral fellow at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.
Credits: NASA

“Under President Trump’s leadership, America will lead in space once again on all fronts,” said Vice President Pence. “As the President has said, space is the ‘next great American frontier’ – and it is our duty – and our destiny – to settle that frontier with American leadership, courage, and values. The signing of this new directive is yet another promise kept by President Trump.”

Among other dignitaries on hand for the signing, were NASA astronauts Sen. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, Buzz Aldrin, Peggy Whitson and Christina Koch. Schmitt landed on the moon 45 years to the minute that the policy directive was signed as part of NASA’s Apollo 17 mission, and is the most recent living person to have set foot on our lunar neighbor. Aldrin was the second person to walk on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Whitson spoke to the president from space in April aboard the International Space Station and while flying back home after breaking the record for most time in space by a U.S. astronaut in September. Koch is a member of NASA’s astronaut class of 2013.

Work toward the new directive will be reflected in NASA’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request next year.

“NASA looks forward to supporting the president’s directive strategically aligning our work to return humans to the Moon, travel to Mars and opening the deeper solar system beyond,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “This work represents a national effort on many fronts, with America leading the way. We will engage the best and brightest across government and private industry and our partners across the world to reach new milestones in human achievement. Our workforce is committed to this effort, and even now we are developing a flexible deep space infrastructure to support a steady cadence of increasingly complex missions that strengthens American leadership in the boundless frontier of space. The next generation will dream even bigger and reach higher as we launch challenging new missions, and make new discoveries and technological breakthroughs on this dynamic path.”

A piece of Moon rock was brought to the White House as a reminder of the exploration history and American successes at the Moon on which the new policy will build. Lunar Sample 70215 was retrieved from the Moon’s surface and returned by Schmitt’s Apollo 17 crew. Apollo 17 was the last Apollo mission to land astronauts on the Moon and returned with the greatest amount of rock and soil samples for investigation.

Lunar Sample 70215 was retrieved from the Moon’s surface and returned by NASA’s Apollo 17 crew. The sample is a basaltic lava rock similar to lava found in Hawaii. It crystallized 3.84 billion years ago when lava flowed from the Camelot Crater. Sliced off a parent rock that originally weighed 8,110 grams, the sample weighs 14 grams, and is very fine grained, dense and tough.
Credits: NASA

The sample is a basaltic lava rock similar to lava found in Hawaii. It crystallized 3.84 billion years ago when lava flowed from the Camelot Crater. Sliced off a parent rock that originally weighed 8,110 grams, the sample weighs 14 grams, and is very fine grained, dense and tough. During the six Apollo surface excursions from 1969 to 1972, astronauts collected 2,196 rock and soil samples weighting 842 pounds. Scientific studies help us learn about the geologic history of the Moon, as well as Earth. They help us understand the mineral and chemical resources available to support future lunar exploration.

Designing Future Human Space Exploration on Hawaii’s Lava Fields:

On the lava fields of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, a team of NASA researchers and partners have been busy doing science in a most unusual way. They were studying the biology and geology of this remarkable terrain while simulating a realistic mission to the surface of Mars. The conditions were so real that many of the expected challenges of otherworldly exploration were recreated, including a communications delay of several minutes, and limited bandwidth for transmitting data.

“Our project is a unique integration of science, operations and technology research in service of future human spaceflight,” said Darlene Lim, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, and principal investigator of the Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains project, called BASALT. “Our goal is to design the exploration of the future, and when you add science to the mix, that changes everything!”

In addition to lending its name to the research program, basalt is a type of rock that forms when lava solidifies, and this is what interests the group’s science team. Hawaii’s volcanic activity today is a good stand-in for the conditions that existed on ancient Mars. Biologists, geologists and geochemists work together on this project to understand the lifeforms, such as bacteria, that grow on these rocks, and the factors that allow them to thrive. What the researchers discover about life in relation to Hawaii’s basalt environments may help scientists choose the best sites to target when searching for signs of life – current or past – on Mars.

When the time comes, scientists will not be alone in that endeavor, nor are they alone on the BASALT mission. The BASALT scientists work side by side with a broader team of 40 people, drawn from areas such as engineering, software development, communication systems, human factors, and exploration technologies.

This year’s field tests, which took place November 1-21, 2017, built on BASALT’s two previous deployments. Team members carefully evaluated scientific methods, exploration procedures, and new versions of software tools for planning explorers’ timelines, based on the group’s research results so far.

New in 2017 were two tools to help both Earth- and Mars-based crews see what’s happening on the ground. High-resolution, 360-degree photos, such as might be taken by a companion Mars rover during a future human mission, captured the landscape that the simulation’s astronauts would explore. This gave the science team a chance to choose, in advance, locations likely to be of interest to their research. BASALT collaborators at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, in Pasadena, California, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, were also there, testing innovative tools that will let multiple users see and explore the Martian landscape together.

Together, this team is working to identify, design, test and build upon the tools that human explorers will need when they first set foot on Mars and begin studying a new world.

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