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Trump's moonshot: The next big leap or another empty promise?

Vice President Pence at the signing of the Space Policy Directive 4, which established the space force. (Jabin Botsford / Washington Post)

On the 20th anniversary of Apollo 11 Lunar Landing, President George H.W. Bush called for a return to the moon's surface and confirmed in 1989 that "it is man's destiny to strive to seek."

Since then, other presidents have urged NASA to send astronauts to the moon or Mars with sky-high rhetoric that was never matched by resources or political will to make such promises a reality.

Now on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, it is the Trump administration's turn. Last month, Vice President Pence John F. Kennedy repeated "because it's hard" numbers saying it's "time for us to do the next & # 39; big leap & # 39; & # 39; and lead NASA to land people on the moon within five years "in all necessary ways."

The announcement – which moved up to a lunar landing by at least four years – surprisingly surprised many at NASA and left an agency hungry for funds for Such missions with a severe whiplash case, scrambling to find out how it would fulfill the latest White House mandate within its reduced budget.

NASA officials are also facing a major test of their agency's effectiveness: this is another empty promise of an administration nostalgic to Apollo's triumph and looking to make a splash while in the office, or can NASA somehow pull off what would be a tremendous step in time for the presidential election ? [19659007] There are already signs that the White House's plan is running in hard winds. [19659008] In a hearing Tuesday, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), Chairman of the House of Science, Space and Technology, Paints spoke for lack of details on how NASA would achieve what she called a "crash program" or what It would cost.

"We need details, not rhetoric," she said. "Because rhetoric that is not supported by a concrete plan and credible cost estimates is just hot air. And hot air can be useful in ballooning, but it won't get us to the moon or Mars."

Before Pence's speech hoped NASA would get people to the moon by 2028. The White House's own budget request, released a few weeks ago, was aimed at a crew of the moon at the end of the next decade, which many in NASA's management considered as a more sensible goal. But the White House suddenly changed course and decided that the timeline was too long – and would fall outside of Trump's second term if he were to be re-elected.

Andre had also been critical of the 2028 date, including former NASA administrator Michael Griffin, who called a moon visit that was "not worth the table". Such a date does not show that the United States is the leader in anything. "

The White House had made it clear to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine within the last couple of weeks that it wanted NASA to move faster and instruct him to make it happen by 2024. He told administration officials he could do it. "They have been consistent in their desire to accelerate," he said in a brief interview after he testified for the congressional hearing Tuesday.

But with a sign of how fast he should swing, his writing is testimony of the hearing quoted the old timeline as saying: "Land people on the moon within a decade", not the five years that the White House wanted.

However, at the hearing, it became clear that NASA is shrinking to speed up the moon mission. Bridenstine said the plan was "in flux" and would require additional funding. He promised to come back with an amendment to NASA's budget request later this month, but he would not or could not say how much m NASA would need.

"My concern is: How does the plan look and what is reality?" Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, said in an interview. She said she was also concerned that "planning pressures will not overcome security and the real issues we should address."

Major technical challenges are also ahead. The rocket that NASA plans to use to launch astronauts for the moon is so far behind, and so far over budget, Bridenstine threatened to sideline it in its first mission in favor of commercial rockets instead.

It affected a rage in congress, especially from late Richard C Shelby (R-Ala.), Chairman of the grant committee and the rest of the Alabama delegation, where NASA's rocket office, known as Space Launch System (SLS), is largely based.

Bridenstine was quickly recalled and revoked to SLS as the best solution and said Boeing, the rocket's main contractor, would look to speed up the development dramatically.

It's not just the rocket to be retrieved on the track. NASA's current moon mission plans require the construction of a station that permanently pave the moon. The astronauts would stop at the station, known as the Gateway, before traveling on special runways to the moon's surface – an ambitious technological advance that did not exist when the Apollo astronauts landed there half a century ago after a three-day direct journey. 19659020] The problem with NASA is that none of this architecture has been built or even under contract. And without a budget or assurances from Congress that the program would be funded, many fear that the White House is setting up the agency for another letdown.

"At first glance, it seems to have been what we've been through before, with presidents making a brave speech without backing up resources," said Wayne Hale, former head of NASA's Space Trial Program, who is now acting as consultant. "Where are the resources? We are waiting to see what is being proposed in the budget."

Todd Harrison, Defense and Space Analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, now said that the Trump administration has put its stamp on the program. Other White Houses may be quick to discard it.

"Before you know, there will be a change in the administration, and a new NASA administrator will come in and say," Whatever these guys did, it's completely wrong. "That's what history over the past 30 years has told us is likely to happen," he said.

There is also deep skepticism within NASA. To alleviate concerns, Bridenstine held a town hall on Monday and took questions from employees. One referred to how various presidents continue to refer NASA to various missions – the moon, then Mars, then back to the moon – while none is being achieved.

"What steps do you intend to take to reduce the programmatic whiplash that keeps us from actually performing any of these major plans?" An employee asked.

However, others find the new sense of urgency that refreshing – and just what an aging bureaucracy that NASA needs. Trump reconstructed the National Space Council to discontinue US space politics, and he has pushed for the creation of a Space Force, a new military branch dedicated to helping US combat opponents in space.

Pence has dedicated more time to space than any other top white house official since the Kennedy administration. His passion is genuine, colleagues have said, and it is his belief that the agency can land people on the moon by 2024.

In its March 26, Pence sent the mission as part of a new space race against superpowers such as . China and Russia guarding the water on the moon's south pole, which could be used not only to sustain human life but also as rocket fuel to push further into the solar system. Water, as many have said, is the solar system's oil.

"It's not just competition against our opponents," Pence said. "We are also fighting against our worst enemy: complacency."

Over the years, critics have paralyzed NASA to lose the brave boldness that defined it in its early days, subdued by a couple of spacecraft injuries that killed 14 astronauts. In 1969, NASA sent men to the moon, 250,000 miles away. Today, its astronauts go to the International Space Station, 250 miles away. And because NASA has not had the ability to fly people to space since the country's spacecraft fleet retired in 2011, astronauts fly on Russian rockets at a cost of over $ 80 million a seat.

Meanwhile, China has emerged as a rival in space. Earlier this year, it became the first nation to land a spacecraft on the other side of the moon. It is planning to send another unclear mission to the moon later this year. In the process, Pence said in his speech that "China has revealed their ambition to exploit the moon's strategic high ground and become the world's leading astronaut."

Part of what drives the pressure on the moon is an unconscious dream that a lucrative business could be built by reminding it of precious metals just below the surface. Minister of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has said that the moon mining could help burn a trillion dollar-space economy.

Homer Hickam, the author and the long-standing NASA engineer serving as a space commander, said the agency should take the opportunity.

"It doesn't happen so often that the vice president or someone at that level is so interested in NASA and spaceflight," he said.

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