Trump's Plan to Develop the Moon and Mars Will Change the Future of the Human Race | Opinion

The United States is at a crossroads. For the first time in more than half a century, we could cease to be the leading power in space. The momentum of the Chinese program and its increasing outreach to other countries means that within a decade the United States could lose militarily, technologically and economically in space. That outcome would be catastrophic.

President Donald Trump understands how real this threat is and has begun to revitalize America's commitment to space.

On the Fourth of July, he asserted, "I want you to know that we are going to be back on the moon very soon, and someday soon we will plant the American flag on Mars."

The Artemis project is not the Apollo project 50 years later. It is something profoundly different.

Imagine that the first woman and man on the moon stay for three weeks (50 percent longer than all six Apollo visits combined). Imagine that their 21 days are spent assembling prepositioned materials to create a work and living space comparable to an Antarctic scientific research station. Imagine that they were joined by a second crew just before they returned to Earth so the new development had permanent habitation.

That kind of permanent development is what Trump has in mind.

The president has launched America on a Moon-Mars Development Project that will change the future of the entire human race.

This project is as daring and revolutionary for our generation as was President John F. Kennedy's proposal to Congress on May 25, 1961, that the United States "should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

It is easy to forget that this goal, which we celebrate the 50th anniversary of achieving, drew a skeptical reaction from the American people. Gallup estimated that 58 percent of Americans were opposed.

Kennedy expanded on the reasoning behind our decision to go to the moon in a remarkable speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962. He asserted, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win."

Because we have been used to the language of "getting to the moon" and we are in the midst of celebrating the great story of the Apollo project, the initial reaction to Trump's challenge of a Moon-Mars Development Project was to translate it back into something with which we were already familiar.

However, as Vice President Mike Pence said at the National Space Council in Huntsville, Alabama, on March 26, "Fifty years ago, 'one small step for man' became 'one giant leap for mankind.' But now it's come the time for us to make the next 'giant leap' and return American astronauts to the moon, establish a permanent base there and develop the technologies to take American astronauts to Mars and beyond. That's the next 'giant leap.'"

Note the direct connection between the moon development and going on to Mars and, as the vice president put it, "and beyond."

The news media, much of the NASA bureaucracy and Congress have not yet come to grips with how big, how different and how profound this new program is.

So Trump's tweet on June 7 has been widely misunderstood. "For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon," he wrote. "We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!"

The president was not trying to minimize lunar development or suggest cutting the Moon Development Project. He was putting the moon in context. We are not trying to repeat the Apollo experience—as remarkable as it was.

Our goal is not just getting to the moon. We have already done that. Our goal is to settle and develop the moon and Mars and turn them into industrial centers that will then enable us to explore the rest of the solar system "and beyond." And just as achieving Kennedy's goal required a whole new structure and system, achieving Trump's vision will require far more change and invention than anyone is currently prepared.

Kennedy wanted to reach the moon. For his generation, that was an enormous, risky and daunting challenge. Trump wants to develop the moon and Mars. For our generation, this will be an enormous, risky and daunting challenge. Then, the next generation can build on this accomplishment to make travel throughout the solar system and travel by families a normal part of the human experience with large numbers of free people living and working in space.

The moon will be a training base for extraterrestrial operations, manufacturing, mining and lunar science. Then, we will use it to launch, as the vice president said, "to Mars and beyond." This is the beginning of genuine space industrialization that will bring huge new resources into the human system and create an untold number of new jobs. The development of a "lunar industrial facility" will be as big a milestone in the history of the human race as the landing of Apollo 11 a half-century ago.

In 2006, John Marburger, President George W. Bush's science adviser, made the case for developing the moon:

The Moon has unique significance for all space applications for a reason that to my amazement is hardly ever discussed in popular accounts of space policy. The Moon is the closest source of material that lies far up Earth's gravity well. Anything that can be made from Lunar material at costs comparable to Earth manufacture has an enormous overall cost advantage compared with objects lifted from Earth's surface. The greatest value of the Moon lies neither in science nor in exploration, but in its material. ...I am talking about the possibility of extracting elements and minerals that can be processed into fuel or massive components of space apparatus. The production of oxygen in particular, the major component (by mass) of chemical rocket fuel, is potentially an important Lunar industry.

This focus on developing the moon and Mars and on commercially viable space industrialization makes the Artemis project profoundly bigger than a mere repeat of the Apollo program.

Additionally, the first woman on the moon will be American, and she will be there in five years. On her first visit to the moon, she will be there longer than the combined 299 hours (a little more than 14 days) that all six Apollo landings combined spent on the moon. The first team landing in 2024 should stay for at least three weeks—and ideally until the first replacement work team arrives. This serious, determined approach to lunar development requires a series of prepositioned logistics packages. Essentially the combination of 3D printing, robotics, distance management and artificial intelligence should enable us to preposition the equivalent of an Antarctic scientific station. The newly arrived "moon developers" should have a substantial amount of resources already available and should be able to spend their initial weeks building out the initial infrastructure for the follow on much larger development team.

Landing in 2024 is just the beginning of the great adventure. The following two or three years should see a substantial increase in the size of the station, the number of people working there at any one time, and the space flight logistic system bringing people back and forth on what should become by 2028 a pretty routine schedule.

A large amount of the early work and early experiments should be pioneering efforts that make the next stage (on to Mars) easier and more practical. This developmental work should be built into the planning for the lunar development from the first day.

As America develops the moon, beginning at the South Pole where the possibility of water ice is greatest, there will be major opportunities for our allies to participate in this great historic venture. Between the moon, Mars and beyond, there will be lots of opportunities for a freedom coalition to work together.

Creating the first permanent American base at the moon's South Pole gives us the best opportunity to find water ice. Ice can be turned into fuel and atmosphere. When combined with 3D printing and robotics, a South Pole manufacturing center begins to offer dramatic opportunities to prepare for the longer, more complicated project of occupying and developing Mars.

The experience of operating in one-sixth the gravity of Earth and manufacturing and mining in a dangerous environment will teach many lessons necessary to survive and prosper on Mars. In the early phases of development, it is much safer to develop these new skills on the moon rather than Mars. We will make mistakes, and we will have accidents and other problems. The moon is a short trip for a rescue team compared to the trek required to respond to a crisis on Mars.

NASA and the contracting community must quickly understand how profound a change Trump's commitment to developing the moon and Mars is compared to everything we have done up to now.

Apollo 11 anniversary Trump
Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong's son Rick Armstrong join U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence as they commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in the Oval Office at the White House July 19 in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

We need a request for information—not just for getting to the moon but for staying on the moon. Companies should be asked to propose their plans for getting to the lunar surface and for the first years of developing the moon.

We have spent the last half century focused on low-Earth orbit and on science from instrumentation in space. Many of the projects are so technologically exquisite that they are testimony to the ingenuity and skill of the scientific and engineering community.

Now, with a Moon-Mars Development Project, we have a new focus for scientists. As we build laboratories on the moon (and shortly thereafter on Mars) what are the questions scientists will want to explore, and what are the structures and equipment they will need?

The first phase of science on the moon will be a lot like the early years of exploring Antarctica. An Antarctic winter offers many of the psychological and physical stresses our first generation of colonists will experience on the moon and Mars.

Because developing the moon and Mars is such an extraordinary undertaking, we need a Center of Excellence focused on thinking through lunar-Mars development and dedicated to developing the tools and systems that process will require.

The best location for a moon-Mars center of excellence striving to pull together the most creative thinking of both the government and the private sector is the NASA-Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

There is no other space facility located so close to the center of American technological and commercial innovation. The opportunity to create a genuine dialogue and partnership with the Silicon Valley community could lead to a wide range of new solutions transcending our more bureaucratic and traditional space companies and could lead to a vast range of private resources being committed to developing the moon and Mars.

Strengthening the current NASA-Ames Research Center and adding to it a Federally Funded Research and Development Center—both dedicated to inventing and thinking through the capabilities for developing the moon and Mars—would create the intellectual momentum we need to achieve the level of breakthroughs for which we are looking. This should be designed from the beginning as a joint business-academic-government project.

Furthermore, making a major investment in the heart of a solidly Democratic state is a powerful reminder that developing the moon and Mars must be an American project—not just a Republican project. Trump's vision of a bold new surge into developing space must become a project of all American people.

We must develop an American commitment to developing the moon and Mars as part of our identity as a country that is always seeking a better future and greater opportunity.

Part of growing broad support for the Moon-Mars Development Project must be a series of public conferences in which everyone interested in contributing to the next great human adventure has an opportunity to participate.

There has been far too much insider and lobbyist domination of thinking and working on space. As more people come to understand the scale of change and the opportunity inherent in the Moon-Mars Development Project there, will be a surge of interest in participating in one fashion or another.

Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Richard Branson and the late Paul Allen are all proof that substantial private resources can be invested in space. As the scale of the Moon-Mars Development Project becomes clear, many more successful individuals and companies will join. None of them are in today's Washington contracting-lobbying system.

At the other end of resources, there are literally hundreds of small companies, startups and entrepreneurs who have new ideas, solutions, technologies and concepts. The current system either ignores them or smothers them in red tape.

Congress and the Trump administration should develop legislation incentivize private investment by passing laws removing taxation from activities on the lunar surface—along with a structure similar to the one used in the oil and gas industry, that would allow companies doing business in cislunar space and the moon to expense intangible and capital costs in the year incurred. This would extend to investment tax breaks as well to help to defray risk involved in such ventures and to encourage more entrants than just well financed existing entities.

Finally, there are a growing number of colleges and universities with both human and financial resources that have an interest in space. Many of these can bring their own and their alumni's resources to support the development of the Moon, Mars and beyond.

On a project of this scale, a whole new approach is needed to maximize open source acquisition of ideas and resources. It must be the opposite of the traditional bureaucratic control model that limits inputs, controls activities and seeks to limit participation to "approved" participants.

One step may be to build an open ended Moon-Mars Development Project Association with a strong social media networking that allows every interested person to be connected, informed and involved. Every American interested in the economic development of the solar system should be invited to participate.

Another vital step is to develop a strong outreach to every student in the country to get them to understand their future opportunities in space. The response to Sputnik and the Apollo program led to a strong increase in students studying science, technology, engineering and math. If the Moon-Mars Development Project is explained to every student in America, the number of STEM students should go up dramatically.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine captured this spirit when he said, "I have a daughter who is 11 years old, and I want her to be able to see herself in the same role as the next women that go to the moon."

Our goal should be to get every young American dreaming that they could have an exciting life developing resources beyond Earth. It may be desirable for some of the existing space advocacy groups to work together in association with NASA to build an online association of "Young Space Pioneers" for K-12 students who want to go into space and to help develop the moon and Mars and explore space opportunities everywhere.

Every member of Congress, governor and state legislator should be asked to participate in involving students in the program. This will also help the elected officials understand the potential of the Moon-Mars Development Project as they communicate with students back home.

Buzz Aldrin
Lunar Module Pilot Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin Jr. prepares to deploy part of the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package during his extravehicular activity on NASA's Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, on July 20, 1969. Space Frontiers/Getty


This scale of development will require a space-based security regime.

The growth of vital assets at low-Earth orbit combined with the Moon-Mars Development Project make it essential that the Space Force attains and maintains dominance in space-based war fighting. The Chinese and Russian efforts in military space make clear that the United States will have to develop an unchallengeable capability to fight and win in space.

The massive reliance of military and commerce activities requires an ability to safeguard assets at LEO which are vital for everything from GPS, to communications, to maintaining the operability of ATM machines, to weather forecasting—the list is virtually endless.

The development of the moon, Mars and beyond will create new zones of vulnerability including: key spots in space, the actual developmental bases on the lunar and Mars surface, and the growth of commerce between the various developed sites. We must have a reliable ability to defend all of them.

Creating the Space Force and investing enough human and financial resources to make it unchallengeable is a key requirement for a successful American space program.

As the Air Force Research Lab and Defense Innovation Unit recently reported, there is a comprehensive Chinese effort to undermine and weaken our space activities here on Earth. The Chinese are stealing intellectual property, buying small entrepreneurial startups, flooding some markets with massively subsidized prices with which no commercial company can compete, and maintaining other predatory behaviors. The United States must win the space development race on Earth and in space. This will require much more effective government defense of American interests from predatory and often illegal Chinese behavior.


This bold, dramatic program cannot be done within the traditional bureaucracies or within a partisan context.

The vision of Americans developing the moon and Mars must become an American vision, and the Congress must commit itself to funding the developments and supporting the reforms necessary for the government to be effective. The current bureaucracy could not achieve the goals Trump has outlined even with much more funding. It would be too slow and too focused on tedious, controlled development—with a bias toward the big old contractors and their lobbyists and an aversion to shifting the central focus from transportation and satellites to landings and development.

What must be developed has to include an incredibly large public-private partnership including philanthropists, entrepreneurial startups and pioneering academic institutions.

Every contractor should put some skin in the game—starting with Boeing, which has been mismanaging a cost-plus contract for the Space Launch System for an embarrassing number of years (replete with time and cost overruns). Part of stretching the NASA budget should be money coming back in from the private sector and from philanthropists and partnerships for developing the moon and Mars.

In fact, there should be no more cost-plus contracts. None. Companies should contract for—and only be paid on—performance.

Developing the moon and Mars in a rapid program requires bold new thinking that no bureaucracy can come up with on its own.

The National Space Council should, working with Bridenstine, establish three parallel planning groups run by NASA but with open involvement by the Council's User Advisory Group. There must be open source opportunities for people to submit ideas and critique proposals.

The three groups—simply A, B and C—should be tasked to compete with each other in exploring every innovation that can develop the moon and Mars faster and cheaper than the current plan. We need three different paths to planning innovation to maximize the flow of new ideas and thinking.

Congress should be asked to get involved in thinking through every method of getting the job done. This is a big enough series of projects over a long enough period of time (the project will probably only be fully mature around 2035) that a lot of people can contribute.

Every aspect of pre-existing plans should be critically examined. There is a deep bias in any bureaucracy to relabel existing programs to fit new proposals and then justify them while rejecting less expensive options based on technologies which did not exist when the original planning began. The Gateway satellite is a good example of something which continues to survive in various permutations even when alternatives might be cheaper and faster. It is expensive, and the original rationale for it was made before we were focused on a lunar landing. In addition, it may be more expensive and less desirable given all the breakthroughs in competitive renewable launches and in other methods of providing the same capabilities. The external teams could weigh in on that option. As a non-technical person, the more I listen to the technical arguments for the Gateway, the less convinced I am. Rethinking Gateway would be good for potentially saving money, developing a better facility using new and revolutionary capabilities, and as a lesson to the bureaucracy to not cling to pre-existing ideas just because they make the system feel better or serve as a hedge against policy changes in administrations or Congresses.

With a normal president and Congress, the Moon-Mars Development Project would be a nice speech that would then fade away as the budget realities, bureaucratic rejection, lobbying resistance, and congressional defense of traditional space pork built up. These forces would combine to keep the system in the same over-budget, over-schedule, under-performance pattern that has tragically defined the American space program since the 1972 decision by President Richard Nixon to reduce America's ambitions from the moon (Apollo) to low-Earth orbit.

For 47 years, we have been incrementally working in the same bureaucratic process with big presidential announcements, followed by congressional refusal to pay for the big project, followed by drawn out "survival" programs that guaranteed cost and scheduling overruns.

NASA has done many unmanned things brilliantly with exquisite science and engineering at amazing distances from Earth.

NASA has also maintained a steady flow of activities in low-Earth orbit and, combined with the commercial world and the military, our capabilities and effectiveness in low-Earth orbit have grown in sophistication, reliability and volume.

However, no president since Kennedy has aroused the nation to encourage the Congress to fund a really big manned space program beyond low-Earth orbit.

The first big step toward implementation is earning the support of the American people. The administration—both in the White House and NASA in collaboration with the private sector—must make earning public support the highest priority.

At a time when the Pew Research Foundation reports that 63 percent of millennials indicate that they are definitely or probably interested in space tourism (June 2018), there is good reason to believe a pro-space grassroots movement could be developed and could lead to much stronger congressional support for the pioneering effort.


The Trump administration must relentlessly challenge the bureaucracy to do things faster, better, cheaper.

Without dramatic improvements in cost and speed, the NASA system has no realistic likelihood of beginning to develop the moon in 2024—and beginning to develop Mars by 2034. However, by applying the entrepreneurial principles of Trump and Vice President Pence both goals become possible.

Every person involved in designing and implementing the Moon-Mars Development Project should know the story of Donald J. Trump and the Wollman Rink.

The Wollman Rink was a popular site for ice skating in 1980, when it broke. Everyone could tell it had broken because it had no ice. The New York City bureaucracy spent six years and $13 million trying to fix the rink. Much like the NASA and Defense Department bureaucracies, the city hired a company with a remarkably elaborate and sophisticated system. There was only one problem—it did not work. Everyone could tell it did not work, because there was still no ice after six years and $13 million.

Trump's apartment looked out over the skating rink, and he got tired of the failure. He taunted Mayor Ed Koch until, in exasperation, the mayor challenged Trump to fix it.

Trump fixed the skating rink in four months for less than $2.3 million. The first year, 225,000 people used the skating rink.

By hiring the best ice rink repair company in the world (a Canadian firm that worked on a lot of professional hockey stadiums), Trump reached beyond the bureaucratic norm and got the job done.

It is an historic fact that in the Wollman Rink project Trump achieved the goal in one-fifth the cost and one-18th the time the city bureaucracy had used in failing.

Everyone involved in the Moon-Mars Development Project should think every day about how to save time and money in the Wollman Rink tradition. Normal bureaucratic explanations of missed schedules or cost overruns should be signals to change the system and possibly the personnel.


Speaking on March 26 this year to the National Space Council in Huntsville, Alabama, Pence outlined the principles that would make possible an on-time achievement of Trump's goals for space. These five principles are so compelling they should be at the heart of planning and implementing the Moon-Mars Development Project.

Principle I: Establish a big goal and then stick to it

"Failure to achieve our goal to return an American astronaut to the moon in the next five years is not an option."

Principle II: Be prepared to reach outside of the traditional bureaucracy to new, entrepreneurial, private companies if it is necessary to get the job done

"[W]e're not committed to any one contractor. If our current contractors can't meet this objective, then we'll find ones that will. If American industry can provide critical commercial services without government development, then we'll buy them. And if commercial rockets are the only way to get American astronauts to the moon in the next five years, then commercial rockets it will be."

Principle III: Be willing to change the bureaucracy, rather than abandon the goal

"[W]e will call on NASA not just to adopt new policies but to embrace a new mindset. That begins with setting bold goals and staying on schedule."

Pence recognizes that a new mindset is more important than new money. A new mindset is necessary because more money poured into failing systems simply leads to more expensive failures.

Principle IV: Be determined to change the bureaucracy in fundamental ways

"NASA must transform itself into a leaner, more accountable, and more agile organization. If NASA is not currently capable of landing American astronauts on the moon in five years, we need to change the organization, not the mission."

Principle V: Urgency must replace complacency

"What we need now is urgency. ... But it's not just competition against our adversaries; we're also racing against our worst enemy: complacency."


We have been given a remarkable opportunity to be the generation that breaks humans free from earth and moves us into the unknown.

We have a chance to turn Star Trek and every movie about pioneering into space into a reality.

We have a chance to have space become the home of freedom rather than tyranny and the rule of law rather than dictatorship.

Trump has outlined an historic mission which must become an American mission and must be implemented with the courage, the energy, and the drive that its importance deserves.

Now, it is up to us to figure out how to get it done.

Newt Gingrich was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. He is now the host of the Newt's World podcast and the author of Trump's America: The Truth About Our Nation's Great Comeback. Follow him on Twitter @NewtGingrich.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

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