President Donald Trump wants to send astronauts where no man has gone before.
During a signing ceremony in the Oval Office on Monday, Trump will authorize the acting NASA administrator Robert M. Lightfoot Jr. to “lead an innovative space exploration program to send American astronauts back to the moon, and eventually Mars.”
“The President listened to the National Space Council’s recommendations and he will change our nation’s human spaceflight policy to help America become the driving force for the space industry, gain new knowledge from the cosmos, and spur incredible technology,” deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said Monday.
The directive, Gidley said, will push NASA to “refocus … on its core mission of space exploration” and if Trump does send astronauts back to the moon, they would be the first to visit the lunar landscape since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
Trump’s pick for NASA administrator — Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma — has yet to be confirmed. He has come under withering criticism from Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, who wields considerable power over the space program.
Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have made it clear since the 2016 campaign that they would like to send astronauts back to the moon.
During a 2016 campaign event near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Trump pledged to “free NASA from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistical agency for low Earth-orbit activities” and “instead refocus on space exploration.”
“Under a Trump administration, Florida and America will lead the way into the stars,” he said.
Pence, during the first meeting of the National Space Council in October, said the Trump administration “will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond.”
“The moon will be a stepping-stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America’s space program toward human space exploration,” Pence said.
Other Republicans, namely former former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have expressed interest in going back to the moon.
During his 2012 presidential bid, Gingrich advocated for forming colonies on the moon.