As NASA struggles to land astronauts on the moon by 2024, the agency's chief reminded officials (June 10) that Mars – not the moon – is the agency's final destination.
"The moon is not the destination." The moon is the waypoint for a possible human mission to Mars, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a city hall-style discussion at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
Bridenstine also defended a controversial statement by President Donald Trump, who tweeted on Friday (June 7): "NASA should NOT be talking about going to the moon – we did it 50 years ago. we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part). "
Related: Will the race from NASA to the Moon take us to Mars faster?
While some have suggested that Trump was throwing cold water on NASA's new plans (a program that the president startedreversing its own space policy and possibly confusing the Earth's moon with the moons of Mars, Bridenstine offered a more accommodating interpretation of Trump's tweet.
Referring to Trump's claim that the moon is part of Mars, Bridenstine said: "We are going to the moon to get to Mars." Anyone who has interpreted this tweet literally is simply reading too much, he added.
Bridenstine speculated that Trump's tweet was requested by a television segment on the Fox Business Channel during which a discussion of NASA's plans for astronauts on the moon in 2024 has climbed into a debate over whether human exploitation of the moon is even valuable. "The moon is valuable because it's a testing ground to get to Mars and that's exactly the case the president did," Bridenstine said.
"We need to learn how to live and work in another world," he said, adding that exploring the moon will give NASA a chance to demonstrate the technologies that will be needed to put humans on Mars.
NASA Lunar Orbital Platform Portal, a proposed lunar space station that will serve as a waypoint between Earth and the lunar surface, is one such technology. "It's our access to Mars," he said. "Now the first Gateway is going to take us to Mars? No. But we need to prove the technology."