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A New Category of Presidential Directives

President Trump created an entire new category of presidential directives to present his guidance for the U.S. space program. The new Space Policy Directive 1 was signed on December 11 and published in the Federal Register today.

“President Donald Trump is sending astronauts back to the Moon,” enthused NASA public affairs in a news release.

But the directive itself does no such thing. Instead, it makes modest editorial adjustments to the 2010 National Space Policy that was issued by President Obama and adopted in Presidential Decision Directive 4.

Obama’s policy had stated:

“Set far-reaching exploration milestones. By 2025, begin crewed missions beyond the moon, including sending humans to an asteroid. By the mid-2030s, send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth;”

Trump’s new SPD-1 orders the deletion and replacement of that one paragraph with the following text:

“Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations;”

And that’s it. At a White House signing ceremony on December 11, President Trump said grandly that “This directive will ensure America’s space program once again leads and inspires all of humanity.”

But it’s hard to see how that could be so. The Trump directive does not (and cannot) allocate any new resources to support a return to the Moon, and it does not modify existing authorities or current legislative proposals.

Interestingly, it also does not modify the many other provisions of Obama’s 14-page space policy, including requirements “to enhance U.S. global climate change research” and “climate monitoring.” Unless and until they are modified or revoked, those provisions remain in effect.

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