This wasn't President Obama's plan. In 2010, he made a speech saying that lunar exploration should not be our top priority:
I just have to say pretty bluntly here, we've been there before. Buzz (Aldrin) has been there before.
But yesterday, the U.S. House has released a bill making changes to funds for the upcoming fiscal year that includes a note calling for NASA to move away from a direct-to-Mars mission and to focus, instead, on a lunar landing:
Instead, NASA is encouraged to develop plans to return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed for Mars, including habitation modules, lunar prospecting, and landing and ascent vehicles.
This throws a massive wrench in NASA's plans to send a manned mission to Mars by the 2030s. The main reason for this pivot has to do with cost: a lunar mission would be significantly cheaper, while allowing scientists to work on technologies that will eventually facilitate the journey to Mars. But this could significantly delay NASA's efforts to put men on Mars.
None of the presidential candidates have said much about their space policies, but the next president will have some influence over whether Mars remains on the agenda. How does the commercial space industry feel about this funding change? If you have thoughts on this, tweet me at @LizSegran.
Image: Hubble Telescope, NASA ES