Vice President Mike Pence, at the first meeting in decades of the National Space Council, announced that American is going back to the moon. The announcement did not have quite the drama of President John F. Kennedy before a joint session of Congress or even the speeches given by the two presidents named George Bush. One can be forgiven for believing that we have seen the return to the moon movie before. The last two times it ran the end did not take place with American moon boots on the Lunar Surface.

Mistakes of the past

In my book “Why Is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” I related the reasons why the two space exploration programs proposed by the two Bush presidents failed.

President George H. W. Bush did not vet his Space Exploration Initiative with Congress and NASA before rolling it out. He was blindsided by the opposition his proposal elicited. President George W. Bush did vet his Vision for Space Exploration. However, after the big speech, he, by and large, acted as if it were a box that had been checked off and let it drift. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama canceled the grand space exploration programs they inherited with barely a thought.

What Trump needs to do

How can President Trump avoid the mistakes of his Republican predecessors and see his return to the moon program through? The first step is for him to realize that he enjoys certain advantages that the two Presidents Bush did not.

Congress, at least the Republican members, seems to be pretty much on board with the idea of going back to the moon. Jim Bridenstine, the congressman who is Trump’s nominee to be NASA administrator, is an enthusiastic advocate for returning Americans to the moon. Potential international partners, such as the European Space Agency, are eager to participate in such a program.

Commercial companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Moon Express are already developing hardware to return to the lunar surface and would make excellent partners in a NASA-led effort.

The next step would be for Trump to make the big speech. The tradition has always been for an American president to make a public announcement of a new space initiative.

The idea is to impart the message that going to the moon is a presidential priority.

Agreements with international partners, including the European Union, Canada, Japan, and India, should be forged quickly. Commercial companies should be solicited for ideas for such hardware as lunar landers and lunar surface habitats and be encouraged to start developing them.

Finally, the president needs to show his seriousness about going back to the moon by paying for it. Next year’s budget should contain a generous request for funding for the lunar effort. Just as important, the request needs to be shepherded through Congress so that the final bill includes enough money to get the program started. The process has to be repeated year after year so that, this time, Americans really do go back to the moon.

Proud speeches about space exploration are all well and good, but nothing communicates how vital pushing back the high frontier of space is, than cold, hard cash. The amount of funding does not have to be anywhere near Apollo levels. The participation of international and commercial partners will go a long way toward financing the effort. However, the amount of money the United States will be willing to spend on the enterprise will determine when and if it will be successful.

The fact that the moon has abundant mineral wealth, especially water that can be used to make rocket fuel for voyages deeper into the solar system, should provide an extra incentive for seeing a return to the moon program through. Science and leadership in space are fine things. However, resources that can spark a space-based economic revolution should keep things in focus.