Among all the election promises made by Donald Trump during the campaign, perhaps one stands the best chance of being fulfilled quickly — sending Americans back to the moon again as soon as possible.
Since the completion of the Apollo program in 1972, NASA’s space exploration initiative has ground to a halt mainly due to its astronomical cost.
After George W. Bush became president, he unleashed the “Constellation” program, under which he hoped to send American astronauts back to the moon by 2020.
However, after president Obama took office in 2008, he quickly decided to scrap the program on the grounds that “it has been done before”, and that he would rather spend more money on initiatives to monitor global warming.
Shortly after the Constellation program was halted, President Obama raised funding for NASA for studies and monitoring of global warming by 50 percent.
Yet, the US space policy is set to undergo another 180-degree change next year.
President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly argued that the whole global warming issue is a pack of lies pushed by China and that NASA should not be allowed to degenerate into a “politically correct institution specializing only in climate monitoring”.
All these suggest that ambitious space programs such as returning to the moon will once again be back on the top of the White House’s agenda.
Two of Trump’s chief advisers, Bob Walker and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, are space exploration enthusiasts.
Walker used to serve as chairman of the Congressional Commission on the Future of the US Aerospace Industry when George W. Bush was in office. Gingrich is famous for his science fiction idea of building a settlement of 13,000 people on the moon.
NASA has all the necessary technologies and know-how to put people back on the moon again. All it needs is extra funding.
And with the Republicans controlling both the Senate and the House, many believe it would be a slam dunk for NASA.
As the International Space Station program is due to expire in 2020, and China, Russia, India and Japan are pressing ahead with their own space programs in full swing, sending people back to the moon first and then Mars later will surely put the US back in the lead again in the space race, thereby fulfilling Trump’s promise of “making America great again”.
However, the fact that the US is refocusing on space programs might come with a costly price tag: it might scale back its commitment to global warming control, something that is not a good thing for the rest of the world.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 7
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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