The international space race is set to heat up in 2018, and China is upping the ante. The Chinese are reportedly launching two new missions this year with the goal of becoming the first nation to land on the far side of the moon. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration is vowing to jumpstart the dormant U.S. space program. Just last month, President Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, which directs NASA to return astronauts to the moon.
The Trump Administration's rhetoric is being met with skepticism by some space experts, who have heard similar things for decades. "I stood in front of a crowd in Washington D.C. and watched George Herbert Walker Bush talk about going back to the moon in the 80s, then I sat second row 20 years later when his son said we're going back to the moon," says Keith Cowing with NASAWatch.com. "Getting the money, planning things that can go for a decade or more, making sure they have support in Congress, and getting all the technology right...that's the hard part."
NASA is currently planning to orbit the moon unmanned in the Orion space capsule by 2019. But Cowing believes the future of space exploration may lie more in the private sector than the federal government. "Can the government get out of the way of people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos who have their own space programs with their own money, that are larger than those of most countries," he says.
At the very least, future space projects will likely need some private cooperation, because getting consistent funding through Congress is highly unlikely. "Somebody in Congress has got to say I'm going to support this all the way through, and the money has got to be there year after year," says Cowing. "Otherwise, like they said in that move The Right Stuff...no bucks, no Buck Rogers."