Trump Announces NASA Policy Goal Of Returning To The Moon

President Trump announced a goal of returning American astronauts to the Moon, but that's easier said than done.

President Trump has signed on to a new NASA directive that makes a return to the Moon the next step in America’s manned space program:

President Trump announced on Monday that the moon would be the next destination for American astronauts, putting the Oval Office’s imprimatur on what other administration officials have said for months.

“It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use,” Mr. Trump said during a brief ceremony at the White House, where he signed what the White House called Space Policy Directive 1.

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

Attendees included Harrison Schmitt, one of the astronauts on Apollo 17, the last piloted mission to the moon.

“Today we pledge he will not be the last,” Mr. Trump said.

The directive, which came on the 45th anniversary of Apollo 17’s landing on the moon, calls for collaboration with commercial companies and other nations, but it did not specify when the moon mission would occur or how much it might cost.

These details may emerge in February when the administration’s proposal for fiscal year 2019 is released.

Vice President Mike Pence made a similar announcement in October at the first meeting of the National Space Council, which is to coordinate space policy across various federal agencies.

Mr. Trump’s announcement essentially revives goals that President George W. Bush announced in 2004. The resulting NASA program, Constellation, was to put astronauts on the moon by 2020 but was hobbled by delays and cost overruns.

President Obama canceled it in 2010 and instead told NASA to focus on reaching an asteroid in the 2020s and then Mars in the 2030s.

The new heavy-lift rocket that NASA is developing for deep-space missions — known as the Space Launch System — could serve as a core component of a moon trip. But the first uncrewed test of that rocket will not occur until 2019 or 2020, and the first flight carrying astronauts would follow several years later.

Announcing a return to the Moon is easier said than done, of course, and Christian Davenport at The Washington Post discusses some of the lingering questions that surround all of this:

[P]residents have promised Apollo-like ambitions for generations, and Trump is now the third consecutive Republican president to vow a return to the moon. Both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush gave lofty speeches about space exploration, and President Barack Obama promised a “journey to Mars.” But a lack of funding and a clear, sustained direction has hampered those efforts, for decades preventing any human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

While Trump offered scant specifics about how NASA would return to the moon, or how much such an endeavor would cost, the difference this time is that his administration would attempt to leverage the growing private sector for the mission. In addition to Moon Express, several commercial companies, including the United Launch Alliance, SpaceX and Blue Origin, have announced plans to return to the moon. (Blue Origin’s founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“This is very different than what happened in previous major space efforts where it was really just governments,” said Scott Pace, the executive secretary of the National Space Council. “We want U.S. industry to be leading, and we want to do it with our international partners.”

Some think they will be the key that could give Trump a space triumph.

“For all of this goal-setting, the real test of Trump administration’s space plan is simple: is it a giveaway to special interests, or an actual space strategy that will push us ahead,” said Phil Larson, an assistant dean at the University of Colorado Boulder’s college of engineering. “We don’t know the answer to that yet. But we do know a commercially led approach is the best deal for U.S. taxpayers. The moon is great, but the plans and partnerships matter more than dates and destinations.”

So far at least, there is no timetable set for the goals that Trump announced yesterday, and it’s likely to be some time before even a preliminary one is put forward. As noted, the first tests of the launch vehicle that would be used to get astronauts to the Moon and beyond won’t even be held for another three years. Even assuming that stays on schedule, it would be several more after that before the first manned launch would take place, and that’s likely to involve missions that would take astronauts into higher Earth orbit. After that, things would likely proceed much as they did with the Apollo missions, with at least a few missions aimed at just getting to the Moon. Given all of that, it would likely be the late 2020s at the earliest before we’d see the first return manned Moon mission would most likely not take place until the late 2020s at the earliest, and that’s assuming adequate funding and no setbacks in the program itself. If one or both of those doesn’t hold true, then it might not happen until the 2030s, and any permanent presence on the Moon such as Trump’s announcement seems to anticipate would be years beyond that at best. All of this to accomplish something that we’ve already done.

While I suppose that it’s important to have a manned space program and to move that program forward, I’m not at all sure that this is the best use of our resources in this regard. Potentially, returning to the Moon could be a worthwhile goal if it were just the first step in a longer-term goal of using that presence to take astronauts a step further with something such as a mission to a nearby asteroid or, more ambitiously to Mars. Instead, all this appears to be is a plan to have a plan to, well, do something that we know we already know we can do, namely get astronauts to the Moon and bring them back safely. What value there is in that, though, is something I’m not at all sure about. Additionally, setting a policy goal is far different from actually carrying it out. Presidents Bush and Obama both set policy goals of their own and never really followed through on recommending or fighting for a budget for NASA that would have even come close to giving them the resources they need to realistically reach the goals that were set forth in that policy. There’s no indication that things would be any different with Trump, and while there are some aspects of a mission like this that can be done in conjunction with private space launch companies like SpaceX, in the end it would require a significant commitment by the Federal Government for the goal to be achieved. That’s unlikely to happen.

Moreover, as I’ve argued numerous times before, manned missions are hardly the best use of our resources at this point in time. While manned space flight has been limited for the past fifteen years or more to missions to the International Space Station, our unmanned program has proceeded forward and made tremendous scientific breakthroughs. This includes not only missions that have taken us to planets such as Mars, Saturn, and Pluto and also led to orbiting such as the Hubble Space Telescope and other satellites that have allowed us to see to the edge of the universe and find planets orbiting both nearby and distant stars, many of which have been found to exist within the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” where it’s believed planets capable of supporting life would need to exist. Future missions will expand on that research and could lead to the first confirmation of planets that contain atmospheres similar to our own where life might be found. None of this is realistically within the reach of manned space flight at this point, and it’s likely to be a long time before we can even think about sending men to such locations. More importantly, these unmanned missions cost a fraction of what manned missions would cost. Rather than setting unrealistic goals for a manned program, it would be more worthwhile to invest money in these programs than to spend it doing something we already know we can do like get to the Moon.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. gVOR08 says:

    As Doug notes, we’ve read this story before:
    IIRC he offered like 300 million to go to the moon. This is sort of like, “Doug, here we are in Arlington. I want you to drive to LA. Here’s a five for gas.”

  2. Mister Bluster says:

    I’m not at all sure that this is the best use of our resources in this regard.
    ANYTHING that might distract his brain dead supporters from Muller’s investigation and from his little pussy grabbing hands is the best use of taxpayers resources as far as Pumpkinhead is concerned.

    He doesn’t help himself much though. He seems to get dumber every day.

    Pud’s Tweet Dec. 12, 2017:
    Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!

    More conclusive evidence that Donald Trump is a pig!

  3. Franklin says:

    I dunno, maybe it’s a good idea. If we want humanity to continue after Trump starts WWIII, they’ll need to be somewhere other than planet Earth.

  4. inhumans99 says:

    gVORo8 beat me to it…I hear it is now crazy expensive to put folks on the moon, tens of billions if an article I read a day or so back was accurate, so if some billionaires kick in the funds I say go for it.

    Of course this announcement from President Trump was something folks could get behind, even lots of of libera…I mean libtards on the Left side of the political spectrum, but he had to go and ruin things by proclaiming we should put men on the moon one day and then the next he puts out a tweet that implies that a Senator would be willing to sleep with him/give him oral pleasure to get what she wants for her constituents…sigh. I suspect we have gotten to a point where even his most ardent supporters are like, dude…seriously?

    Even “populists” have to cringe a bit that he is their standard bearer.

  5. Tyrell says:

    A moon base could be a stepping stone to Mars – a lot easier to get off the moon than the earth.

  6. Raoul says:

    Call me cynical, but this seems timed to try to blunt Macron’s announcement that he is poaching some of our top science minds.
    As he should, since the US is in an anti-science fever (Republicans, at least).

  7. michael reynolds says:

    It’s meaningless noise. A clown’s fart.

  8. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    There’s just so much BS in this.
    No funding.
    No mission.
    No platform…meaning vehicle…to make it possible.
    I rate this just a skosh above Trump University, in it’s relation to reality.

    “…is it a giveaway to special interests, or an actual space strategy that will push us ahead…”

    Take a guess, knowing what you know about Mr. Drain the Swamps.

    Oh…wait…maybe J-E-N-O-S and his rocket…

  9. TM01 says:

    Macron can have all the Top Minds what would want to go work for France.

  10. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    A clown’s fart.

    What’s amazing is the number of people like Bunge, JKB, Guarneri, TM01…who will line up to inhale that recycled KFC/McDonalds grease, leaking out of that fat mango ass.

  11. inhumans99 says:


    Wow…it is fun to make fun of the French (I do too, even though I have French cousins), but you sound ignorant, some of the greatest thinkers the world has ever known have come out of France. Also, their contribution to our culture cannot be overstated.

    Cheering on a brain drain from the U.S. is never a good idea, job creators (those folks you claim to revere) are folks with brains not trains in their heads so you very much want them to stay in the U.S.. If you could see past your irrational hatred towards the liberals/left/other in this country it would be clear to you that France’s announcement is just one more nail in the coffin that we are going to be buried in on the world stage as we cede our global leadership role to France, Russia, Germany, Saudi Arabia, etc..

  12. MBunge says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    Actually, this sums up the most amazing things that have happened since Trump’s election.

    As for the Moon mission, this “The stars? Who needs them?!?!” attitude wonderfully encapsulates the small, self-centered, mindset of the post-modern human being.


  13. Hal_10000 says:

    You know what the space program really needs? To quit being jerked back and forth between different goals depending on what hair the White House has up its backside. We’re going to the moon. No we’re going to Mars. Oh, it’s the moon. We’re going to capture an asteroid! Oh, the moon again. Mars! Moon! That constant changing of gears costs money and has left us with no trip to the moon, no orbital vehicle, no trip to mars, no asteroids.

    Here’s what we need to do: establish a 20-year plan with the goals of 1) massively cutting the cost of getting things into orbit; 2) creating a credible way of dealing with dangerous asteroids; 3) continue the stellar work being done by NASA astrophysics and planetary (disclosure: NASA astrophysics pays my salary). Once we’ve made technical breakthroughs, figuring out what to do with them will be a shade easier.

  14. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    The fact that you think that link sums up anything, based in the real world, says volumes about you and your cognitive abilities.

    “The stars? Who needs them?!?!”

    First; the Moon and Mars are not stars.
    Second; Your Dear Leader is slashing funds to NASA in order to give tax cuts to himself and his kids…tax cuts you will never see.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    And most important: will there be pussy for Trump to grab on the moon? How about Trump’s latest, suggesting Kirsten Gillibrand offered to f-ck him? Class, all the way. Just like you: toady to a toad.

  16. michael reynolds says:


    My guess is Trump’s trying to do something ‘presidential’ prior to firing Mueller of the Christmas holiday. The Murdoch/Bannon media is desperate to get rid of Mueller. Because, uh, Trump has nothing to hide.

  17. Franklin says:


    Macron can have all the Top Minds what would want to go work for France.

    Strange, I thought you guys wanted to make America great again, not France.

  18. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    toady to a toad.

    Who is classier? The toad, or the toady?

  19. Tyrell says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: Several months ago there was the exciting, stunning announcement of a new engine that was tested in a lab. An engine that can get a rocket to Mars in six weeks! So developments are proceeding, with or without the government. I look for a consortium of corporate interests to lead the way to Mars, and beyond.
    I would like to see more rover type crafts landing on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. They seem to offer the best chance of having life forms.

  20. Slugger says:

    I loved, loved sci-fi in my youth. I think science and technology are extremely important for any nation that wants to lead the world. However, manned missions just don’t make sense. The two rovers on Mars have done a fantastic job at a tiny fraction of the cost of supporting a biologic, and there is no need for a return vehicle. A lunar rover could do a ton of science; no protoplasm needed.

  21. Mikey says:


    Also, their contribution to our culture cannot be overstated.

    Not just culture. If it weren’t for France there might not even be a USA at all.

  22. gVOR08 says:

    @Hal_10000: Also – come up with some solution to the radiation problem before we talk about sensing people to Mars.

  23. gVOR08 says:


    Strange, I thought you guys wanted to make America great again, not France.

    Their version of great is easier without Top Minds around to ask questions.

  24. gVOR08 says:

    @TM01: You remind me of someone commenting on why French doctors don’t come here, where they could make more money. First, they still get paid pretty well. Second, they had no debt and are grateful for the government paying for all their schooling. And third, and most important, they get to live in France.

  25. SenyorDave says:

    I’m guessing that Trump actually thinks it would be pretty cheap to send a ship to the Moon. He probably thinks there is a warehouse with all the necessary equipment. All we have to is use the existing NASA personnel and refurbish the old equipment and we’re set.

  26. MarkedMan says:

    There hasn’t been a serious manned space program since the Space Station started construction 20 years ago. Even then, it was already on life support.. Every president since Carter has made some vague announcement about returning to the moon or going to Mars but its just talk. Not a one has every expended a dime of political capitol to get there. As for this current round, it means even less coming from Trump.

  27. An Interested Party says:

    Actually, this sums up the most amazing things that have happened since Trump’s election.

    Actually, this person is as deluded as you are…to suggest that the forces arrayed against Trump are at the beck and call of the corporate crowd? Reality is really destroying that argument, as Trump and his GOP minions want nothing more than to shovel as much of this nation’s wealth as possible into the huge trough of corporations and the wealthy…here’s a hint, lickspittle, anyone making any kind of argument that Trump is supposedly draining the swamp of anything is completely full of $hit…as is anyone who would link to such a person…

  28. rachel says:

    In 1982, he wanted Holiday Inn to buy a stake in his casino project in Atlantic City, and he was concerned it would decline because construction wasn’t far enough along. So he told his construction manager to hire a ton of bulldozers and dump trucks to move dirt around the site, so it would look extremely busy when Holiday Inn executives made a site visit. The instructions were simple:

    What the bulldozers and dump trucks did wasn’t important, I said, so long as they did a lot of it.

    There goes Don the Con again; moving the dump trucks to confuse the rubes.

  29. Tony W says:

    Manned space flight is full of great emotions, but terrible science.

    The cost of life-support systems, and the engineering required to return the person back to earth, put all kinds of money into areas that do nothing to further the mission.

    We need look no further than the Mars rover for evidence that unmanned probes are where it’s at.

  30. Kathy says:

    The Moon is very convenient as a first step into space. It’s nearby, it has a shallow gravity well, it’s most of the way outside of Earth’s gravity well, and it has resources that can be exploited.

    But exploiting the Moon will take a lot of money and not see a return on investment for decades. In fact, it’s almost certain the return on that investment will go to people other than the original investors, like their descendants, their heirs, or the companies that buy the original companies now gone broke.

    This is largely what keeps any progress from taking place. You’d need a government to invest such sums, or true believers in expanding humanity’s presence in space like Elon Musk.

    Here’s an example:

    The Moon lacks an atmosphere and gets uninterrupted sunlight for two solid weeks, that’s 336 hours straight. This is a perfect place to build an electromagnetic launch track that could accelerate payloads to high speeds (in relation to the Earth-Moon system) on their way to mars, the asteroids, Jupiter, Venus, etc.

    But after 336 straight hours of sunlight, you get 336 straight hours of dark night. So you’d want a launch track per hemisphere at least.

    And while operating it should be cheap (free energy, little wear and tear on the machinery, completely predictable ambient conditions), the capital costs would be HUGE.

    Also, accelerating cargo could be done swiftly with a high-g load, no problem, in a relatively short track. Accelerating payloads with people would require a much longer track with a lower g of maybe just 2.5 or 3.

    Nature does not provide a free lunch.

  31. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    true believers in expanding humanity’s presence in space like Elon Musk.

    And even he isn’t working on creating a company to mine on the moon.

  32. al-Ameda says:


    As for the Moon mission, this “The stars? Who needs them?!?!” attitude wonderfully encapsulates the small, self-centered, mindset of the post-modern human being.

    It is very likely that Trump is interested in the Moon because a few of his science advisors told him that it was source (an endless source) of cheese, the very best cheese.

  33. DrDaveT says:

    To paraphrase Alfred Harmsworth, that’s not news. (Good) News would be

    NASA Announces Policy Goal of Returning Trump to the Moon

  34. Tyrell says:

    @Hal_10000: I look for more of the exploration to be done by corporate partners with governments, including the US, China, and France. The future may well be in robotic exploring.

  35. Kathy says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    Musk seems dead-set on going to Mars, or rather in sending people to Mars. He has his Big F***ng Rocket all drawn on paper.

    Mars isn’t a bad place. It also has a shallower gravity well than Earth, and amenities like a very thin, unbreathable atmosphere. The latter can be used to aerobrake payloads, saving some fuel (and given the rocket equation, that’s no small deal), and can be mined to produce oxygen.

    But we don’t know yet how to protect travelers from radiation en-route, for one thing.Solar energy works fine, but you get less concentration than on Earth, plus Mars has a 24.5-hour day/night cycle and occasional clouds. And the costs to get there are many times those of getting to the Moon.

  36. grumpy realist says:

    @TM01: There are a lot of us who speak French already.