President Trump’s new space policy directive calling for American astronauts to return to the moon is welcome and encouraging news. The United States is entering a new era of space exploration. In the past, NASA and the federal government have led the way, but it is time we recognize the future of space travel will be a collaborative effort between NASA, the private sector, and the international community. As the chair and ranking member on the House of Representatives space subcommittee, we agree that the first step in this new era is crucial: America must return to the moon.
Decades after Apollo 17 left the moon, some may ask: Why go back? What more can we learn? With public and private interest in space growing, we have a unique opportunity to ignite a passion for scientific research and discovery, spur innovation in the private sector, and use the moon as a stepping stone to reach Mars.
Americans have benefited greatly from space exploration and scientific research. Medical advancements in drug treatment and vaccines can be traced back to research done in space. Technology used to filter and purify water on the International Space Station has been commercialized. Returning to the moon will allow scientists to complete unfinished lunar studies, including understanding the ice located at the lunar poles and the impacts of living in low gravity with intense solar radiation. This information could be critical to understanding future space exploration to Mars.
The commercial space industry has expressed interest in the moon as well. This September, our space subcommittee heard testimony on private lunar exploration. The commercial sector is developing new lunar landers and next-generation launch vehicles to return to lunar orbit.
The private sector has always been a partner in space exploration. From McDonnell Aircraft Corporation building the Mercury and Gemini capsules to Grumman building the Lunar Excursion Module for Apollo, government and the private sector have worked hand-in-hand since the very beginning of the space age. Going forward, a vibrant commercial space economy will drive down costs and increase competition along with innovation. But there is also a need for the government to maintain its own space exploration capabilities for strategic purposes. By leveraging logistical services, NASA could free up more resources for scientific research and development.
Returning to the moon would enable further scientific study and future exploration. The moon’s resources could even supply and fuel missions deeper into our solar system. Lunar missions would also allow NASA to test capabilities within the vicinity of Earth before embarking on missions to Mars and other destinations.
It is clear we are approaching a renaissance of space exploration. America’s return to the moon could lead to significant advancements in science, medicine, and technology that will enhance our lives here on Earth. We believe the next generation of astronauts, scientists, and engineers possess the passion and talent to re-establish America’s presence on the moon and Mars. These next few years are key.
The revival of the National Space Council under Vice President Mike Pence is a welcome step. The council’s goals are to reenergize American activity in space and to create a plan that will support human missions to the moon and beyond. As lawmakers, we must oversee their efforts. Congress has an obligation to ensure that America continues to lead the way in space exploration. Only by working together, Democrats and Republicans, private sector and public sector, can we achieve our goals.
We commend the president for making America’s return to the moon a priority. Reaching beyond our horizons has been a hallmark of the American spirit and space exploration has always gone hand-in-hand with scientific discovery. Space exploration will facilitate economic growth and stimulate innovation. As John F. Kennedy once said, “man and his quest for knowledge and progress is determined, and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not. We mean to be a part of it; we mean to lead it.” America must return to the moon.
Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) is the chairman of the House Science space subcommittee. Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) is the subcommittee’s ranking member.