The ability to reach the Moon has long been seen as humanity's greatest achievement in terms of science and technology. So when President Obama first told supporters of his dream to recharge the nation's space program, some assumed that meant a return to the Moon. At this point, we know that's not true, but according to comments from a top NASA official, going back to the Moon isn't completely off the menu.
During a webcast for the National Academy of Sciences' medical committee last month, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said:
"I have never said the United States is not going back to the lunar surface. I just said that in the foreseeable future, given the budget that NASA currently has and given where we are and what we need technologically if we’re going to go to Mars, then it will not be the United States that leads an expedition to the lunar surface…"
However, Bolden does note that a U.S. astronaut could eventually make it back to the Moon, but it would be, surprisingly, under the aegis of another nation. Bolden said, "If somebody else is going, we will provide our engineering expertise and the only condition is that I be allowed to send an astronaut as a part of the crew."
This might be the most definitive statement we've heard regarding NASA's plans for the Moon in some time. Essentially, NASA's priority, for the foreseeable future, is Mars. However, given plans such as the one by China to create a Moon base, it may be time to re-think that position.