By Leonard David
THE WOODLANDS, Texas—Should the U.S. send humans back to the moon in a 21st-century reboot of the cold war–era Apollo program…or should the nation go full-throttle and for the gusto, sending crews to all the way to Mars, where none have gone before? U.S. scientists and policy makers have grappled ad nauseam with America’s next great otherworldly destination for decades, without making much meaningful progress. Now that it is approaching a half-century since an American—or anyone at all, for that matter—last left low Earth orbit, the debate seems lost in space.
Soon that shall change, many advocates of human spaceflight believe, through a hybrid of new initiatives by Pres. Donald Trump’s administration as well as commercial efforts led by private industry. The Trump White House’s vision for U.S. astronauts remains at present a foggy TBD, but there are plans afoot to relaunch a National Space Council. Helmed by Vice Pres. Mike Pence, the council would set a new space agenda not only for NASA but also for U.S. rocket companies, big and small, such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK.
In the meantime, speculation about the U.S.’s future in space has reached its highest point in recent memory, as made clear here last week by the proceedings of the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC). At the meeting, scientists unleashed the latest findings regarding Earth’s moon, Mars, asteroids, comets and myriad other cosmic objects of interest, often with a hopeful eye toward rekindling human voyages to other worlds. Although robotic probes are the persistent currency of discovery in today’s planetary science, many researchers increasingly see astronauts as crucial agents of exploration in the not-too-distant future.
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