For American astronauts, the moon beckons once again

John W Young on the Moon
On the 45th anniversary of American astronauts’ last visit to the moon, President Trump signed a new directive to launch a plan to once again set foot on the lunar surface.

The signing of Space Policy Directive-1 at the White House on Monday, December 11 authorizes NASA to focus efforts on a moon landing, reinforcing a unanimous recommendation by the new National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, in October 2017.

You may be asking, “So what happened to Mars?” after so much bold talk in recent years of manned missions to the red planet. Well, plans to embark on that ambitious journey certainly haven’t been abandoned, with the moon trip expected to lay the foundations for a future mission to the faraway planet.

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” President Trump said on Monday. “It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use.”

Trump added, “This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints — we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond.”

Vice President Pence insisted America will “lead in space once again on all fronts,” adding, “Space is the ‘next great American frontier’ and it is our duty — and our destiny — to settle that frontier with American leadership, courage, and values.”

Despite the ambitious proclamations, details for the moon mission — or missions — are currently thin on the ground. It’s not yet clear what kind of funding NASA will receive, or whether it will partner with private outfits like SpaceX to expedite the plan. And there was no mention of a timeline for a manned mission to the moon, or indeed to Mars.

NASA nevertheless said it was looking forward to “supporting the president’s directive, strategically aligning our work to return humans to the moon, travel to Mars, and opening the deeper solar system beyond.”

Trump signed the directive in front of a small group of dignitaries, among them NASA astronauts Sen. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, who landed on the moon 45 years to the minute that the policy directive was signed, Buzz Aldrin — the second human to set foot on the moon back in 1969, Peggy Whitson, the current holder of the record for the longest time (665 days) spent in space by a U.S. astronaut, and Christina Koch, a member of NASA’s astronaut class of 2013.

The White House directive intensifies a new space race between the U.S., China, and Japan to return humans to the moon. Both Asian countries in 2017 outlined separate plans for moon missions. Japan appears to be looking at 2030 for a trip to the lunar surface, while China has outlined plans for a mission soon after that. We’ll have to wait for more details from the U.S. government to find out if it has any hope of getting there sooner.

Emerging Tech

A.I.-generated text is supercharging fake news. This is how we fight back

A new A.I. tool is reportedly able to spot passages of text written by algorithm. Here's why similar systems might prove essential in a world of fake news created by smart machines.
Product Review

The Division 2 brings the most fun we've ever had to Washington, D.C.

After 55 hours with The Division 2, it’s clear that Ubisoft has improved on the original in almost every way. The world is richly detailed, the story missions are wonderful, gunplay and enemy design are great, and the endgame content is…
Emerging Tech

A lunar time capsule: 50-year-old moon rock samples to be opened for study

Nearly 50 years after the Apollo missions to the Moon, NASA is breaking open samples of Moon rock for the first time. Samples collected from Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17 have been preserved and never before exposed to Earth's atmosphere.
Emerging Tech

Opportunity’s final image is a haunting panorama of the Martian surface

The Opportunity mission to Mars may be no more, but the rover's legacy lives on. Now NASA has released the final image captured by Opportunity, and it's a stunning panorama of the Martian surface.

Adventurous and electric, Porsche’s second station wagon will arrive in 2020

The Mission E Cross Turismo concept Porsche unveiled during the 2018 Geneva Auto Show will morph into a production model tentatively named Taycan Cross Turismo. This 600-horsepower electric station wagon will arrive in showrooms by 2021.
Emerging Tech

Racing to catch a flight? Robot valet at French airport will park your car

Hate searching for parking at the airport when you need to catch a plane? Startup Stanley Robotics recently unveiled a new outdoor automated robotic valet system. Here's how it works.

At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.

Bags with brains: Smart luggage and gadgets are making travel smoother

The bag you use to tote your stuff can affect the experience of any trip. In response, suitcases are wising up, and there are now options for smart luggage with scales, tracking, and more. Here are our favorite pieces.

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

Nvidia is making it easier to access information on deep learning research. It has launched an online space with three demos for image editing, styling, as well as photorealistic image synthesis. 

British Airways’ new Club Suite for business class comes with a door

British Airways is going after a bigger slice of the business class market with the imminent launch of the Club Suite. The plush seating option offers a more private space as well as an easier route to the bathroom.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.
Emerging Tech

Inflating smart pills could be a painless alternative to injections

Could an inflating pill containing hidden microneedles replace painful injections? The creators of the RaniPill robotic capsule think so — and they have the human trials to prove it.
Emerging Tech

The U.S. Army is building a giant VR battlefield to train soldiers virtually

Imagine if the U.S. Army was able to rehearse battlezone scenarios dozens, or even hundreds, or times before settling foot on actual terrain. Thanks to virtual reality, that's now a possibility.
Emerging Tech

A silver bullet is being aimed at the drug-resistant superbugs on the ISS

A bacteria which is benign here on Earth can mutate into a drug-resistant superbug once it enters space. Now this problem is being tackled by a team of microbiologists who have found a way to inhibit the spread of bacteria in the ISS.