A New House Plan Would Change NASA’s Focus From The Moon To Mars

HR 5666 would abandon the Trump administration’s Artemis program, which emphasizes a return to the moon and commercial space companies’ participation in NASA projects.

By Alexandra HartJanuary 28, 2020 12:58 pm,

Changes could be in store for the space program that’s currently trying to put humans back on the moon.

On Friday, the House Science Committee introduced a NASA authorization bill that shifts focus away from the Artemis program proposed by the Trump administration and toward a Mars-focused effort. Artemis aimed to return humans to the moon.

Eric Berger is senior space editor for Ars Technica. He says the House authorization bill expresses a strategy or direction for policy, but doesn’t allocate money like an appropriation bill would do. Nevertheless, if passed, it would represent a significant change in focus for NASA.

“In some sense, it’s kind of a backward-looking bill,” Berger says. “It returns us to the failed policy of a decade ago where NASA kind of set its sights on Mars and we kind of spun our wheels for awhile and never got anywhere.”

The Trump administration’s approach returned focus to the moon, and enhanced the role commercial space companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin would have in getting there. The Mars-oriented strategy envisioned by the House committee has been called “the Boeing bill” because it prioritizes space travel that would require the kinds of rockets produced by the airplane builder.

Berger says getting to the moon is a near-term, achievable goal for NASA.

“We have these horizon goals for NASA,” Berger says. “We’ve found in the past that they tend to just slip away. The programs get canceled just because we don’t show any tangible progress toward getting there.”

Another reason to go to the moon is competitive pressure from China.

“China’s going to go the the moon within the next decade, and the question is, Do we really want to let them have free reign so close to Earth on the closest satellite to our planet?”

Moon exploration would also give scientists knowledge they would need to build a successful Mars program, Berger says.

Under the bill introduced last week, travel to the moon could occur, but intensive moon exploration would be prohibited. The bill would allow only so-called flags and footprints missions.


Written by Shelly Brisbin.