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Trump administration seeks return to the Moon
Establishing a lunar base seen as crucial for training astronauts and launching missions to Mars and beyond.
By Laurel Kornfeld
Feb 17, 2018

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WASHINGTON D.C. — The Trump administration supports returning astronauts to the Moon as a stepping stone for exploring Mars and other solar system destinations, Vice President Mike Pence told members of the reconstituted National Space Council (NSC) at its first meeting, held in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Held on the 60th anniversary of the former Soviet Union's Sputnik 1 launch, an event viewed as the start of the space age, the meeting was a first step for the NSC, which President Trump restarted via executive order.

It had last been active in the early 1990s during the presidency of George H. W. Bush.

In his opening remarks, Pence emphasized the US needs to resume the dominance it once had in spaceflight.

"Rather than lead in space, too often, we've chosen to drift. And as we learned 60 years ago, when we drift, we fall behind," he said.

Returning to the Moon must encompass building a base there rather than just leaving behind flags and footprints, Pence stated.

"The Moon will be a stepping stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America's space program toward human space exploration," he emphasized.

Pence also noted that American astronauts have not traveled beyond low-Earth orbit since the last Apollo mission in 1972 and that the US has relied on Russia to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) since 2011.

Transporting just one astronaut costs the country $76 million.

For the Trump administration, development of space technology will play a role in protecting national security, he noted.

"We will renew America's commitment to creating the space technology needed to protect national security. Our adversaries are aggressively developing jamming and hacking capabilities that could cripple critical military surveillance, navigation systems, and communication networks. In the face of this threat, America must be as dominant in the heavens as it is on Earth."

To facilitate that dominance, the administration will promote educational and technological reforms that will increase opportunities for US citizens.

It will also encourage the commercial spaceflight sector to maintain a human presence in low-Earth orbit.

Attendees at the meeting included representatives of SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, Blue Origin, Boeing, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada Corporation.

NASA has lacked a coherent vision for the US space program under the last several presidential administrations, with each new administration revising its priorities and goals for spaceflight.

The Constellation program, enacted under the presidency of George W. Bush, was supposed to support the construction of launch vehicles and crew capsules that could transport astronauts to the Moon and then to Mars and beyond, but it never received sufficient funding.

Once in office, President Obama canceled Constellation with the exception of the Orion space capsule project. Instead, his administration proposed the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which sought to move part of an asteroid to lunar orbit and land astronauts there.

That project has since been canceled as well.