Oh, the Lunarcy!
On Monday December 13th, the 45th anniversary of the Apollo XVII landing on the Moon, Donald Trump and Mike Pence announced the Administration’s a change to the US National Space Policy. Space Policy Directive 1, despite having a cool name, doesn’t do much except change one segment of the US National Space Policy, first published under the Obama Administration in 2010
In fact, SPD1 replaces exactly 34 words in the National Space Policy. The rest of the document, which outlines priorities, guidelines, and goals of the space program, remains the same. SPD1 can also be seen as an indication that the Administration is working towards implementing their own Space Policy document. The one released in 2010 took years to craft. Through working groups, stakeholder meetings, briefings, and high-level policy discussions, the National Space Policy was born. It would be unorthodox for an Administration release a complete rewrite of such a painstakingly created document in as little as a year, let alone 10 months. And with space being a bipartisan issue that the Administration can get some good press and Congressional brownie points with, throwing out an Obama-era policy might not be in the Administration’s best interest. SPD1 shows that the administration cares about space. And, especially for Pence, they want to use their time in office to cement their legacy by buying into the already existing space exploration schema.
Don’t believe the media hype. We aren’t “going back to the Moon” because the Trump Administration said so. We aren’t “putting Mars on the backburner” or “changing our ultimate exploration goals.” As shown in the 2010 version of the National Space Policy, cis-Lunar exploration was always going to be a stepping stone to our goal of crewed missions to Mars. What the rewrite does do is alleviate some of the time-pressures put on NASA to fulfill these mission objectives. The original text of the National Space Policy calls for manned missions beyond the Moon by 2025 and manned missions to Martian orbit by the mid-2030s. The new language eliminates these directives, and replaces it with a more open-ended mission architecture.
And even in the rewrite, the “how” is left open ended. SPD1 does not commit government resources, SLS launches, or taxpayer dollars to Lunar exploration. Besides, that would require Congress to allocate funds for such missions. Maybe this SPD1 announcement is an indication that the Administration wants to tackle rewriting the whole National Space Policy, or will, in a more likely case, amend the current policy with new language that better reflects the technical, scientific, and political goals of the space program. Only time will tell.
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