At a National Space Council meeting earlier today, Vice President Mike Pence said it is the White House policy “to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years.” Although he said the SLS rocket must be accelerated to do so, he urged NASA to reach the moon “by any means necessary.” “We’re not committed to any one contractor. If our current contractors can’t meet this objective, then we’ll find ones that will,” Pence said. “If American industry can provide critical commercial services without government development then we’ll buy them.” Pence’s comments come less than 2 weeks later after NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine testified in Washington of NASA’s commitment to send hardware to the Moon by next year. Putting astronauts back on the surface of the moon would be a monumental effort, especially if the White House wants to accomplish such in the next five years.
President Trump issued the Space Policy Directive 1 in December 2017, ordering NASA to return astronauts to the moon. In today’s announcement, by using the phrase “by any means necessary”, Vice President Pence suggested using using rockets and landers built by private companies if NASA can’t do it alone. Non-government companies like United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin partnership, SpaceX, and Blue Origin are among the companies that could win contracts from NASA to get to the Moon by 2014.
“Let me be clear the first woman and the next man on the moon will both be American astronauts launched by American rockets from American soil,” Pence said. Other countries have announced ambitious plans to return humans to the Moon, including China which successfully landed a spacecraft and lunar rover on the Moon earlier this year.
President Trump reinstated the National Space Council in 2017; Vice President Pence serves as its chair. Today’s meeting marked the first of the council, which unites the interests of groups working on commercial, scientific, and national security space operations from a policy perspective.
Returning to the moon will be a costly venture. NASA requested $19.9 billion in funding for this year; Congress appropriated $21.5 billion. Bringing back Americans to the moon could cost more than $130 billion according to sources at NASA.
The National Space Council is recommending that American astronauts land on the South Pole of the Moon, where water in ice form is known to exist. Vice President Pence said it’d be possible to use nuclear power to extract water from the Moon’s southern craters and mine oxygen from lunar rocks to refuel spacecraft.