Neither candidate spoke much about space during the 2016 election, but just before Trump was elected president, he outlined a plan for NASA to move from an Earth-monitoring agency to one devoted to exploration.
When Obama took office, he told NASA to ditch the plan to revisit the moon and concentrate on sending humans to Mars in the 2030s, but Trump has set the space agency only one goal.
The president-elect wants NASA to explore the furthest reaches of the solar system by the end of the century, according to Space Policy Online.
“I will free NASA from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistics agency for low Earth orbit activity… Instead we will refocus its mission on space exploration.”
Trump’s new space plan, still a little short on details, focuses on eliminating bureaucratic waste, promoting a private-public partnership, and setting ambitious goals for NASA that will force the agency to stretch itself.
It’s the same kind of goal Kennedy gave NASA in 1961 when he instructed the agency to catch up and overtake the Soviet Union to win the space race.
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
In the weeks and months leading up to the election, neither candidate had much to say about space and the presidential debates didn’t even mention NASA.
After the second debate, SpaceNews sent both Clinton and Trump a series of questions asking about their plans for NASA, which was followed up by a questionnaire from Scientific American a few weeks later. Clinton praised NASA and dropped the names of space super stars like a pro while Trump gave short vaguely worded answers devoid of any specifics.
Then, shortly before Election Day, the new president-elect recruited former Republican congressman Robert Walker, who chaired the Science, Space, and Technology Committee in the 1990s, to help draft a plan for NASA.
Trump’s new space policy, heavily influenced by Walker, is designed to coordinate public and private efforts to maximize American efforts to explore the entire solar system. That includes mining valuable minerals from the asteroid belt and visiting Jupiter’s moon Europa, perhaps the best place to find alien life near Earth.
Trump plans to bring back the National Space Council, last in operation under George H.W. Bush, explore deep space, and encourage commercial partners to build a new economy in low Earth orbit, Walker told Mother Jones.
“If you’re looking at technology that looks for the solar system, you are then likely to move toward plasma rockets, toward nuclear-powered rockets, certainly toward solar sails.”
The space council, headed by the vice president, would be charged with making sure each partner, NASA, the military, and commercial partners, are all playing their proper role.
The new president-elect also has plans to abandon climate research, transfer Earth monitoring funding from NASA to NOAA, and strengthen the U.S. military’s stance in orbit.
Trump’s administration plans to eliminate many of the redundancies facing the American space program today. NASA is currently building a massive rocket known as the Space Launch System (SLS), but there are private companies also working on heavy rockets capable of deep space travel.
Ditching the NASA launch vehicle and relying on private spaceships would free up federal funds for other space-related projects, which would reduce costs, create jobs, and promote growth.
With better cooperation between the government and private companies, federal funds could be better utilized to help America explore the solar system, U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, who is on the short list to head NASA, told SpaceNews.
“The United States of America is the only nation that can protect space for the free world and for responsible entities, and preserves space for generations to come. America must forever be the preeminent spacefaring nation.”
[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]