by James F. Bridenstine
James F. Bridenstine was sworn in as the thirteenth Administrator of NASA in April 2018. Before that, he represented Oklahoma’s First Congressional District in the House of Representatives, where he served on the Armed Services Committee and the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. He is a Naval aviator and former TOPGUN instructor who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I am the first NASA administrator to have never seen humans walk on another world. I intend to be the only administrator with that distinction. Right now there are more people alive than not who share my experience. While most of Earth’s inhabitants were born after the end of the Apollo missions, roughly a quarter of all of the people alive today have always known a world where it is perfectly normal for people to live in space.
In winter 1911–1912, two overland parties became the first humans to reach the South Pole within weeks of each other. While we visited the South Pole in airplanes in subsequent years, no one thought to travel overland again for nearly half a century. In many important ways that is where we are today with regard to the Moon. We fly over it with satellites while we stay home. It has been a half-century. It is time to go back.
When we return, however, we will be doing it in a way that we’ve never done before: by partnering with commercial industry. NASA becomes one customer among many others, which helps share the cost and reduce the risk. And we’ll have multiple providers competing on cost and innovation. This has never been done for a trip to the Moon.
We already have a basecamp in low Earth orbit: the International Space Station. Soon we will have another basecamp–the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway—in cislunar space. When you think of the way that we are going to the ISS right now, we’ve already proven that a commercial approach can work with resupply services and soon we’ll add crew services. We are taking what we have learned from our experience with the ISS to drive down cost and increase access, and we are applying it to cislunar space.
This is not going to be “Lucy and the football” again. We’re not planning to go to the Moon and then not go to the Moon. The reason our current approach is more resilient is that we have commercial and international partners at a level we have never seen before. Their degree of excitement is as high as it has ever been. It is infectious. Everybody is ready to go back to the Moon.
And when we go back, I like to say that we will be going “forward to the Moon” since we’ll be doing so with the intent not only of studying this nearby world, but these efforts will directly support the human exploration of other worlds, such as Mars and beyond.
This is not going to be about flags and footprints. This will be about doing sustainable science and feeding forward the human spirit. We are the pioneers, the star sailors, the visionaries, and the doers. We stand on the shoulders of giants. We will go to places humanity has never been and add our names to history’s greatest adventurers.
The relationship between NASA and The Explorers Club goes back to the dawn of the space age. NASA counts members of The Explorers Club among its most accomplished explorers and scientists, many of whom have also served among the most prestigious ranks of the organization. I am confident that this productive relationship will continue—both on Earth and in space—in the decades and, if I dare say, the century to come.