Saturday’s 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing is putting space exploration back in the spotlight, and boosting anticipation for NASA’s next ambitious lunar mission. NASA CFO Jeff DeWit says the Trump administration’s proposed $1.6 billion to fund a 2024 moon landing is just the beginning of the organization’s plans.
“The plan is to go back in 5 years, and this time we are going back sustainably,” DeWit told Yahoo Finance on The Ticker. “We want to set up an architecture that allows for permanent access to the moon because we need to improve the technologies it takes to then go to Mars. The real goal — and that’s what’s coming up — we are going to put the first American on Mars in our lifetimes.”
Last year, President Trump called for the Department of Defense to form a “Space Force” as a sixth military force of the United States. Then last month, NATO defense ministers approved the group’s first space policy, making the space race a focus for not only exploration but security.
“Space is such an important domain now for the country from a national security and economic perspective,” DeWit says. “People don’t know that without GPS timing and GPS satellites, you can’t even get money from an ATM. It drives how food gets to supermarkets. So, it’s very important to protect that domain, and as you’ve seen, other countries are improving technologies where they can shoot down satellites from the ground.”
Still, President Trump’s Artemis moon program is facing roadblocks. The project was left out of recent spending plans by the House Appropriations Committee. This as Pew Research shows less than one-in-five Americans think sending astronauts to Mars or the moon should be a high priority for NASA. A 63% majority of those polled instead say monitoring key parts of the Earth’s climate system should hold more clout.
NASA last put a human on the moon in 1972. Its new Artemis program aims to put the first woman on the moon in just 5 years, and looks to land on Mars by the 2030s. DeWit remains optimistic with that timeline.
“It’s very realistic as long as we get the resources to do it,” DeWit says. “We have to build a lander. We need to do some things that we don’t have yet. We can do it. The only risk we have right now is political risk that we may or may not get the full resources to do it.”
But offsetting costs may not only come from taxpayers. NASA is looking to tap private companies, like Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, to further exploration.
“We are obviously partnering with American companies all across the nation- thousands of them actually,” DeWit explains. “What we are doing drives the U.S. economy. This is a very lucrative thing for the country and we want to get it done. The more people we have helping us get the job done, the better.”
Meghan Fitzgerald is a producer with Yahoo Finance.