The Obama administration wanted to send humans to Mars. But the Trump administration wants to put them back on the moon first, and quickly.
That ambition is inside internal documents reported by Politico on Thursday that describe what would be a dramatic shift in mission for NASA. According to the documents, created by the transition team assigned to the agency, President Donald Trump’s advisers want NASA to send humans to the moon three years from now, nearly five decades since the last astronaut left his footprints there. NASA would focus on boosting human activity in the cislunar region—the space between the Earth and the moon—as opposed to venturing deeper into the solar system. The space agency’s main goal, they say, should be “the large-scale economic development of space.”
“NASA’s new strategy will prioritize economic growth and the organic creation of new industries and private sector jobs, over ‘exploration’ and other esoteric activities,” explains a summary of what’s next for NASA in the documents. “Done correctly, this could create a trillion-dollar per year space economy, dominated by America.”
It’s not surprising for a new administration to want to take NASA in a different direction so soon after its arrival in Washington. Eight years ago, Barack Obama canceled the Constellation program, created under George W. Bush, which planned to return humans to the moon by 2020. Obama believed the program was too expensive and that NASA had “lost focus,” especially as it began to wind down the space-shuttle program, the country’s pioneering pride and joy. He told NASA to put people on Mars by the 2030s, and lasso an asteroid somewhere along the way.