Trump wants to send astronauts to the Moon on the way to Mars

The Trump administration had previously signaled its intentions to send astronauts back to the Moon, but now that renewed space exploration objective is official. On Monday, the president signed Space Policy Directive 1, a document detailing a shift in U.S. policy that would reprioritize a mission to put American boots on the Moon for the first time in 45 years.

While Mars is widely considered to be the primary goal of much current space exploration, a Moon mission would “establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars,” President Trump asserted during the signing.

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery. It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use.”

This isn’t the first we’ve heard of the Trump administration’s Moon ambitions. In July, Vice President Pence declared “we will put American boots on the face of Mars” during a speech to NASA. Pence chairs the National Space Council, a recently reconvened space policy advisory group that Trump reestablished with an executive order in June. A White House budget proposal from earlier this year announced that the Trump administration would “[focus] the Nation’s efforts on deep space exploration rather than Earth-centric research.”

The administration’s vision would lean heavily on public-private partnerships and the new directive reiterates U.S. reliance on “commercial and international partners” to achieve its ambitious space policy objectives, a theme we’ve seen increasingly with NASA in the years following the agency’s decision to retire its fleet of space shuttles. In late September, NASA announced that it would work cooperatively with Russia’s space agency Roscosmos on a space station that would orbit the Moon.

Trump’s Moon plan is ambitious, but it isn’t unique. In 2004, President Bush announced his intention “to gain a new foothold on the Moon and to prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own” with a similar shift in space policy, but the plan, set to launch in 2020, was later derailed by budget realities.