Trump Makes NASA Add Astronauts To Moon Mission, Could Save $10 Billion

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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NASA intends to send astronauts to orbit the moon in 2018 at the apparent request of President Donald Trump, potentially saving taxpayers $10 billion dollars.

Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, sent a letter to the space agency’s employees saying they should “explore the feasibility” of sending astronauts to orbit the moon in 2018, seemingly at the request of the Trump administration.

Speeding up NASA’s plans to orbit the moon with astronauts could save money in the long term.

“An imperative to accelerate the schedule in this way is long overdue,” Dr. Robert Zubrin, who helped design plans for NASA’s manned mission to Mars and wrote the “The Case For Mars,” told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Moving the first piloted SLS [Space Launch System] flight from 2022 to 2018 will save the taxpayers four years of SLS spending to get to the same objective, with a total saving in the $10 billion range,” Zubrin said.

NASA already planned to send an unmanned SLS rocket with an Orion capsule to orbit the Moon, but will accelerate the program to send astronauts on the previously unmanned mission in late 2018. One Trump adviser told The Washington Post adding astronauts is intended to be “a clear signal” to the Chinese that the U.S. will retain its dominance in space.

“It may take a little more money in the short term, but in the medium and long term it will save a great deal of funds,”  Zubrin continued. “In aerospace, cost is people times time. The faster you get something done, the more money you save.”

Trump seemingly wants to return U.S. astronauts to the Moon, then send them onto Mars in space missions, which will require the giant SLS rocket currently being debated in Congress. The president vowed to “unlock the mysteries of space” in his inaugural address, lending credence to reports he discussed sending humans to Mars in a private meeting with billionaire Elon Musk.

Zubrin says that this is potentially a great strategy to ultimately send U.S. astronauts to Mars.

“[T]he same heavy lift launch system used to send astronauts to the Moon can be used to send them to Mars,” Zubrin told TheDCNF. “In fact, if we had a Mars program, we would also want to have a Moon program, as otherwise the launch rate would be too small, and the Mars program would have to maintain the booster program workforce while they were inactive.”

Politico’s documents say Trump wants NASA to launch a “rapid and affordable” lunar mission to the moon by 2020, build privately-operated space stations and assist “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,” states a summary of NASA’s agency action plan obtained by Politico. “Done correctly, this could create a trillion-dollar per year space economy, dominated by America.”

Trump may free up money for his space plans by slashing the more than $2 billion NASA spends on its Earth Science Mission Directorate, which covers global warming science, and divert that money towards space exploration. Additional money for Mars exploration could be diverted from NASA’s troubled Asteroid Redirect Mission, which was heavily supported by Obama. Obama tried for years to eliminate the SLS, but Congress rescued the rocket, though the former president did take money from it to fund global warming programs.

Experts have long suspected Trump’s space agenda will fund exploration with robotic probes and human astronauts diverted from NASA’s global warming science programs. Another billionaire space entrepreneur, Robert Bigelow, thinks Trump could double NASA’s budget.

The U.S. is better prepared to visit Mars than it was to visit the moon in the 1960s, according to a study by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The total cost of current plans to send Americans to Mars comes out to roughly $35 billion spent by 2025 to arrive in 2030.

Trump has yet to name a NASA director, but the documents identify Oklahoma Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine, a former Navy pilot, as the top contender.

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