NASA embarked on a “Journey to Mars” about five years ago, with the aim of sending humans into orbit around the red planet in the 2030s and landings to follow some time later. The current plan calls for activities in lunar orbit, but no landings. Despite this change in course from the existing Moon-then-Mars exploration plan, however, there remains a significant subset of engineers, and especially astronauts, at the space agency who would prefer to use the Moon as a waypoint to the surface of Mars.
They may get their way if Hillary Clinton is elected president. On Monday night, during an event at Rice University in Houston titled Lost in Space, a physicist named Neal Lane offered comments in favor of a return to the Moon. “Today there’s a lot of international interest in having a presence on the Moon,” Lane said. “I think we don’t want to look down from lunar orbit and watch China and India and Europe and other parts of the world starting to establish missions there, even if they’re small ones, while we’re going around and around.”
Lane served as President Clinton’s science advisor from 1998 to 2001. And although it may not be widely known in aerospace circles, Lane is now serving as an informal advisor to Hillary Clinton’s campaign on the topics of science and technology, including space policy. There is no formal space policy yet for a Clinton White House, but it’s likely that Lane would have a meaningful voice in setting that policy after the election if Clinton were to win the presidency.