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Moon Direct 

Robert Zubrin

The American human spaceflight program, armed with a clear goal, stormed heaven in the 1960s. But for almost a half-century since, it has been adrift, spending vast sums of money with no serious objective beyond keeping various constituencies and vendors satisfied. If it is to accomplish anything, it needs a real goal. Ideally, that goal should be sending humans to Mars within a decade. But after all these years of stagnation and bureaucratization, NASA lacks the will to attempt such a feat. A second-best alternative  — one that could potentially transform NASA back into the can-do agency it once was, and that it needs to be again if it is ever to attempt to reach Mars — is to reverse the retreat by reopening the lunar frontier. For this reason, the Trump administration has announced that it has set such a goal, to wit, that America should return to the Moon, this time to stay.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this putative goal is meaningfully driving the administration’s actions. Rather, the administration is funding NASA at roughly the same levels as the Obama and Bush administrations, while also continuing to approve the agency’s wasteful investment in useless projects. Astonishingly wasteful is NASA’s work on the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway). The gateway is a planned space station that will orbit the Moon, supposedly serving as an outpost for human explorations to the Moon, Mars, and deep space. NASA’s Orion spacecraft will serve as the module for crews to travel back and forth between the gateway and Earth. The agency currently projects that Orion would take its first crew around the Moon by 2023, while Vice President Pence has recently stated a goal of putting astronauts on the gateway by the end of 2024.

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Robert Zubrin, a New Atlantis contributing editor, is president of Pioneer Astronautics and of the Mars Society. An updated edition of his book The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must was published in 2011 by The Free Press.

Robert Zubrin, "Moon Direct," The New Atlantis, Number 56, Summer/Fall 2018, pp. 14-47.