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50 years after Apollo, a U.S. return to the Moon looks depressingly far off

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20.07.2019

The 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing is an occasion for great historical celebration, but also concern at the present state of human space exploration, at least for the United States. Years of political back-and-forth and technical setbacks threaten to drag on longer than the entire Apollo program took. Meanwhile, the prospects for a deus ex machina by Elon Musk’s SpaceX have dimmed at least slightly after a series of mishaps during rocket tests this year. As for Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, that’s even years behind SpaceX.

And then there’s President Trump’s stated aim to make America great again in space, which appear to be as fraught as the rest of his mercurial policy goals. In March, Vice President Mike Pence (who energetically chairs the National Space Council) declared that U.S. men and women would walk on the Moon by 2024–up from the planned 2028 goal. But then earlier this month, Trump tweeted that the U.S. should aim straight for Mars and called it a waste of money to go the Moon. In place of a Saturn V rocket, we have a saturnine chief executive.

Elements of the administration still seem committed to the Moon, and frustrated with NASA’s progress. On July 10, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that he was reassigning two top executives, “to better position the agency to meet the challenge to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.”

Related: Fast Company‘s special series “50 days to the Moon”

Even if the president were laser-focused on the Moon, such plans rarely survive. The move to 2024 has one obvious reason: It would be the last year of a second Trump term–far from certain for a commander in chief whose approval rating has never cracked 50%.

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, dissed the idea of a return to the Moon, instead pushing for a mission to an asteroid and, later, Mars. That nixed the policy of his........

© Fast Company