NASA is going to reveal details on its plans to go to the Moon in early February, as it unveils its budget request for 2019.
In December Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, which tasked NASA with returning humans to the Moon rather than pursuing the Journey to Mars project of the previous administration.
However, noticeably absent were any actual details on how this would be done. NASA is currently building a new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and a crew capsule called Orion, both of which will play a part. It also has plans for a space station near the Moon called the Deep Space Gateway.
No plans have been released yet for any sort of lunar lander, nor any timeline for Moon exploration. In fact, very little at all has been revealed about what the Moon program will entail, save for changing NASA’s near-term destination from Mars to our natural satellite.
But speaking last week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) civil space forum, NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot (acting because Trump has taken more than a year to get anyone close to running NASA, twice as long as Obama) said the upcoming FY2019 budget, expected on or around February 5, would finally reveal some details.
“We’ve been working on the plan. We’ve been working with the administration,” he said, reported SpaceNews. “I think when the budget comes out folks will see what we’ve been asked to go do and how we think we’re going to do it.”
Of course, by the time this budget comes into effect, it’ll be just a year until the next presidential election. If Trump isn’t re-elected, and wouldn’t that be awful, then a new Administration could just as easily change all these decisions again – as has happened many times before.
The plan under Obama and his NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, the Journey to Mars project mentioned earlier, was to perform a few test flights of Orion in or near Earth orbit before going to Mars. That might have included some sort of orbiting Mars station in the early 2030s, followed by crewed landings in the late 2030s. Those plans themselves were also rather threadbare.
Now, for better or worse, NASA has a chance to reveal how it plans to return us to the Moon. Hopefully, in a few weeks, it’ll be worth the wait.