In a ceremony at the White House that was brief and to the point, President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1 that ordered the United States government, including NASA, to send human beings back to the moon. The president and Vice President Mike Pence made a few remarks that contained the usual phrases about pioneering spirit that accompanies such initiatives. However, as Laura Seward Forczyk noted, another motivation will propel the third attempt to return Americans to the moon, after almost 30 years.

Appropriately, the president signed the directive 45 years to the day that the Apollo 17 astronauts landed on the moon for the last time.

Harrison Schmitt, one of those men, was in attendance at the event. Trump casually mentioned that the new policy would make sure that Schmitt would not be the last person to walk on the moon.

Repudiation of Obama space policy

The shadows of several American presidents lingered in the room during the signing ceremony. They included John Kennedy, who first sent Americans to the moon in the 1960s. Also, both presidents named George Bush tried to return people to the moon and failed, the memory of which was not far from those watching the ceremony, wondering if the third time would be the charm.

However, the most prominent American president that many remembered was Barack Obama, who, seven and a half years ago, canceled the last return to the moon effort and said, “Now, I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned.

But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before. Buzz has been there.” Virtually every study done on future deep space exploration, including one done by MIT, states that the moon, partly because of its water deposits but also for more inherent reasons, is vital to any effort beyond low Earth orbit. Trump’s new policy is a repudiation of Obama’s approach, which many observers found to be phony.

What happens next?

Of course, President George W. Bush and President George H. W. Bush also started back to the moon programs, both of which came to naught. To show that he is serious, President Trump will have to contribute significant resources and Political Capital to put American astronaut boots on the lunar soil. Fortunately, the sentiment for returning to the moon, both in American and abroad, at NASA and in the private sector, has been rarely greater. If Trump takes advantage of the opportunity the moon represents, he will have established himself as one of the most significant American presidents in history.

And there is nothing that says making America great again quite like a new American flag on the lunar surface next to a lunar outpost.