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Will the Space Policy Directive 1 benefit or hinder human missions to Mars?



  Trump signing

President Donald Trump speaking at the White House ceremony on December 11 to sign his space policy directive. How can that directive support human expeditions to Mars? (credit: NASA / Aubrey Gemignani)




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On December 11, the president Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, in which he intends to leave a clear mark on the future of human space exploration (see "Where, but not how or when", The Space Review, December 18, 2017). This was not the first time that President Trump adopted a robust space policy. In March of this year, he signed NASA's Transitional Authorization Act of 2017, and in April he conducted a question and answer session from the White House, along with astronaut Kate Rubins, with the crew of the International Space Station.

Will we be able to land humans on the Moon and / or Mars in the short term?

The new directive calls on the United States to "lead an innovative and sustainable exploration program with commercial and international partners to allow human expansion through the solar system and bring new knowledge and opportunities back to Earth." beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and use, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations. "

These are all worthy and exciting goals, but will this new policy directive mean any significant change from the past? Can we land humans on the Moon and / or Mars in the short term?

The administration really seems to be motivated to achieve real goals of human space exploration within its mandate. However, it is not yet clear if a sufficient budget will be allocated to allow the implementation of its ambitious policy, either in whole or in part.

Federal budgets are challenging – and will be for the foreseeable future – but there is an extremely compelling reason why the administration must "commit" to this plan and propose a budget that allows the United States to move forward aggressively. There are few (or no) other programs or problems in the United States that have such clear and documented public support, as well as overwhelming bipartisan approval in Congress, particularly for missions to Mars. This presents a golden opportunity to work with all parties to advance an important and attainable national goal.

Unlike many other major national initiatives, this is an affordable goal as well. At less than one half of one percent of the federal budget, NASA's current budget (of which only about half is spent on manned space flights) should undoubtedly be increased to some extent. However, any necessary increase would surely leave NASA's budget well below one percent of federal spending. But, at the same time, such a small increase could have a dramatic impact on national morale, competitiveness, STEM education and international leadership.

There is an extremely convincing reason why the administration should go "all in" in this plan and propose a budget that allows the United States to move forward aggressively.

The United States should lead in this effort, but we should not do it alone. If we are ready to move forward, there are many opportunities to work with our current international space partners, and possibly some new ones. When possible, commercial solutions should be sought as well. The activities on the lunar surface are a perfect example of how international and commercial entities can play a fundamental role in enabling a viable approach to lunar exploration and still allow us to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

The United States is better positioned to launch an ambitious and permanent plan for the exploration and development of deep space than ever before. What we need now for this to happen is a clear and consistent plan and commitment to really move forward and the necessary resources to enable success.


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