President Donald Trump on Sept. 20 acknowledged the “tremendous” work done by NASA to return astronauts to the moon by 2024. But Trump said that the ultimate goal is Mars.
Trump told reporters after a White House meeting with Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, “We’re going to Mars” and added that it is a more exciting target than the moon.
Trump elaborated, “We’re stopping at the moon. The moon is actually a launching pad. That’s why we’re stopping at the moon. I said, ‘Hey, we’ve done the moon. That’s not so exciting.’ So we’ll be doing the moon. But we’ll really be doing Mars.”
To Mars From The Moon
Trump shared that NASA intends to set the moon as a staging ground for eventual crewed missions to Mars.
NASA’s deadline for a 2024 return to the moon by astronauts was revealed in March by Vice President Mike Pence. But the moon was already a primary objective for the Trump administration due to Space Policy Directive 1, which was signed by Trump in December 2017 ordering NASA to send astronauts to the moon and aim for Mars.
However, in June, Trump took to Twitter to criticize NASA’s focus on the moon just weeks before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
He wrote, stressing that Mars should be the goal, “For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon — We did that 50 years ago”.
NASA chief Jim Bridenstine has since then emphasized that the moon is a key waystation for future crewed missions to Mars.
NASA’s 2024 moon landing is the primary goal of its Artemis program, which is at present developing the massive Space Launch System megarocket and Orion spacecraft to fly astronauts to and from the lunar neighborhood. NASA is also developing strategies for a station near the moon, called the Lunar Gateway which will serve as a staging ground for lunar surface exploration.
On Friday, Trump held that NASA was making “tremendous progress” toward Mars, and also praised the work of commercial space tech companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. Both companies have test sites in Texas and have leased launch facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Trump said, “In addition, rich people like to send up rocket ships. So between Bezos and Elon Musk and others, we’re leasing them our launch facilities, which you can’t get. And they’ve actually done very well. They’ve said they’ve had great success.”
Trump said to Australia’s Prime Minister Morrison, “But rich people in this country — I don’t know about your country — but they like building rocket ships and sending them up, and it’s okay with us.”
Trump and Morrison passed on a query about whether an Australian astronaut would eventually fly with NASA sometime soon. The Australian Space Agency was officially formed in 2018. Unlike the Apollo era, which saw NASA racing with the erstwhile Soviet Union to the moon, this time, the U.S. space agency is not going alone. The European Space Agency is constructing the service module for Orion and, this year, NASA has received commitments from Canada and Japan to collaborate on lunar exploration.
This Saturday, NASA added the Australian Space Agency to its team of moon partners with an agreement to collaborate on future lunar projects. Australian Space Agency head Megan Clark and NASA’s Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard signed a joint statement of intent for space cooperation.
Morrison said his country is looking beyond the moon and gave a statement, “We’re backing Australian businesses to the moon, and even Mars, and back.
Morhard said in a NASA statement, “We are honored by today’s statement and the commitment of our friends from Australia to support us in our mission to return to the moon by 2024 with the Artemis program. The strong relationship between NASA and the Australian Space Agency affirms NASA’s commitment to establish sustainable exploration with our commercial and international partners by 2028.”