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Trump signs NASA directive aiming at moon, Mars and beyond

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Washington, December 11, 2017 | comments
Trump signs NASA directive aiming at moon, Mars and beyond
Houston Chronicle | Link
By Kevin Diaz and Alex Stuckey

President Donald Trump, weighing in to the politics of space, on Monday signed Space Policy Directive - 1, urging NASA to return Americans to the moon and encourage human space exploration to Mars and beyond.

The White House directive, amplifying recent congressional direction, came with the backing of several Texas congressmen with close ties to the U.S. space program, including Houston Republican John Culberson and Woodville Republican Brian Babin, whose district east of Houston includes the Johnson Space Center.

Babin said that by refocusing America's space program on human spaceflight exploration, the president has ensured the nation's leadership in space and prioritized a return to the moon and future manned missions to Mars.

"Under the president's leadership, we are now on the verge of a new generation of American greatness and leadership in space," Babin said, "leading us to once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil."

When people question why the U.S. would return to the moon, Keith Cowing, editor of NASA Watch, a website devoted to space news, has a pretty simple answer: most people alive today have never seen a human walk on another world.

"I think my generation should stop being selfish about what we did," said Cowing. "It really is time for the vast majority of the people in the world to have their chance to see this."

Technology is much improved now when compared to the 1960s and 1970s – the last time we sent people to the moon, Cowing noted, and there is still so much we can learn from it.

For example, people originally thought the moon was this dry, barren place, he said, but about a decade ago scientists discovered the moon actually is home to ice water.

"You can live off the land there," he said. "It's gone from a nice place to visit to, with technology, we can go back there and stay."

And that's another reason he thinks it's beneficial: The moon can serve as a place to train astronauts before they head to planets that are farther away, such as Mars.

On Monday, Johnson officials said it was "too soon" for them to "understand how implementation of the new directive may affect our work."

In Washington, retiring San Antonio Republican Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, echoed that expanded exploration possibility.

"President Trump has again shown that, under his administration, America will be a leader in space exploration," Smith said. "Going back to the moon as the precursor to further exploration will enable NASA to test new systems and equipment critical for future missions, like the human exploration of Mars."

Cowing sees this push to send humans back to the moon as beneficial for Houston's Johnson Space Center because astronauts are trained in Houston.

Instead of preparing for a Mars mission that is more than a decade from launch, they'll begin preparing for something much sooner, he said.

"If you want to go to other places, it helps to have a remote, distant place a little closer to home," he said. "There are some things you can't simulate in a building in Houston."
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