For anyone who forgot or is too young to remember, both Bush administrations launched programs to return American astronauts to the moon and send them off to Mars. The first plan was announced on July 20, 1989 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The second was unveiled 15 years later on Jan. 14, 2004, just under a year after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia.
Past isn’t necessarily prologue. NASA is in better shape to do something at the moon than is at the time when these two initiatives were unveiled. I would put forth the following reasons for optimism.
NASA is making progress on SLS and Orion, which are the two legacy systems from the second Bush Administration’s plan. No, they’re not the cheapest or most optimal vehicles to base the plan on, but there seems to be no appetite in the Trump Administration for a bruising battle with Congress over canceling them. Deal with it.
The commercial sector has grown substantially. NASA learning how to work with private companies on a partnership basis. And launch costs have been reduced due to SpaceX’s innovation on reusable vehicles.
Enormous amount of expertise has been accumulated on the International Space Station. The station’s international partners are eying the moon as the next step beyond ISS.
So, the conditions are there for venturing out to the moon. The question is whether the money will be there as well. Even with the participation of commercial space companies, NASA will need an executable plan and the funding to support it.