NASA Watch was running a story about how Vice President Mike Pence would be at the Johnson Spaceflight Center to officiate over NASA’s announcement of the next class of astronauts.

Part of the wording of the press release jumped out, “The new astronaut candidates could one day be performing research on the International Space Station, launching from American soil aboard spacecraft built by American companies, and traveling to the moon or even Mars with the help of NASA's new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.” The idea of going back to the moon has not been in any NASA document since President Barack Obama canceled the Constellation program.

How announcements about going somewhere in space are usually made

Usually, the President of the United States makes the sort of announcements about American astronauts going somewhere or not as the case may be. President Kennedy threw down the gauntlet to the Soviets when he proclaimed the moon race before a joint session of Congress.

Both presidents named George Bush made their space exploration announcement at events before audiences. President Obama announced that we would not, after all, go back to the moon at the Kennedy Space Center, but are still going to Mars someday.

Why did NASA jump the gun?

Usually, NASA public affairs are quite careful to render only the Space Agency’s official line in all press releases and official documents. The inclusion of the moon in the announcement suggests that the word has already been given internally.

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The rumors have been swirling for months that President Trump would like to see a return to the moon, in partnership with the commercial sector, within his presidency. But one would think that Trump would have liked to make the announcement himself, with proper staging and optics, for maximum public relations effect. The president, after all, is excellent at that sort of thing.

What the president still needs to do

Of course, a return to the moon is just one of the things that need to be announced. The National Space Council, with an executive director, and a NASA administrator still need to be rolled out. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma still seems to be the front-runner for the top space agency job.

Any change in space policy will need an alteration in the budget request. The White House offered a status quo, pared down NASA budget for 2018. If Trump proposes to get back to the moon anytime soon, he will almost certainly need a budget increase rather than a decrease. Congress will likely do that service for him anyway.