There’s a push-pull battle ahead between the Moon and Mars, but it’s not a gravitational tug of war.
This showdown involves spheres of influence in the U.S. Congress. Proposed space legislation introduced in the House on Feb. 3 would steer NASA toward a new Moon landing — and effectively thwart a similar push for Mars exploration. There simply isn’t enough money, or political commitment, to meet both goals.
A Mars mission is pushed in a pair of bills recently introduced in the Senate and House.
The lunar legislation, designated HR 870, will be hashed out by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. It was introduced by Rep. Bill Posey, a Florida Republican, and a similar bill is expected to be introduced soon in the Senate.
“The Committee will continue to ensure that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration pursues a balanced portfolio of programs reinvigorated with bold exploration objectives,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republic who chairs the Science, Space and Technology committee. “Building upon the progress made towards development of the Space Launch System, Orion and the commercial crew and cargo programs, the committee will ensure NASA stays the course and leads the world in not only space exploration but also space science.”
The surge in legislative proposals to steer the course of space exploration is in large part the result of the recent regime change in Washington. The Trump Administration is generally seen as pro-space, but the commercial spaceflight industry is splintered among competing factions.
SpaceX chief Elon Musk has been a high-profile booster of Mars exploration. Legislators proposing to shift that current NASA priority to a more Moon-targeted course have tended to align with more traditional space companies, such as Boeing and Lockheed.