Space exploration is a long-term endeavor. It takes many years and boatloads of money to get a single spacecraft off the ground and out of Earth’s atmosphere. Getting it to destinations outside the planet’s orbit is even trickier. And if the plan is to send humans along for the ride, you can expect development to take longer than most US presidential terms.
That’s a problem, given that the executive office is in charge of shaping the US space program and its overall goals: when different administrations have different ideas on what to prioritize, the space program faces whiplash that creates chaos and slows projects down. In just this century, NASA has seen its focus shift from the moon to Mars and back to the moon. In 2005, President Bush said we were gearing up to go to the moon with the Constellation program. In 2010, President Obama said we were headed to Mars. In 2017, President Trump decided it was actually the moon again.
With less than a month to go until an election that could lead to a new administration under Joe Biden, the space community is bracing itself for yet another possible pivot. The circumstances once again highlight the need to stabilize the US space program so it has the support it needs to pursue projects and achieve goals, secure that they won’t be abruptly upended by the whims of a new president.
The next four years are critical. Under Artemis, NASA’s program to return humans to the moon, we’re seeing the development of technologies like lunar spacesuits, lunar habitation modules, landers, rovers, Gateway (a lunar space station designed to enable human exploration in deep space), and tons of other new technologies meant to make moon missions work. Only some would be immediately suitable for a Martian environment,