A new book by a former White House staffer is claiming that President Donald Trump offered NASA unlimited funding if they could get to Mars before the end of his first term of office and was visibly disappointed when he was told it was impossible.
The new book, which is called Team of Vipers, is written by former White House communications staffer Cliff Sims and an advanced copy of it has been seen by New York Magazine.
It claims that during an Oval Office meeting in April 2017 between the president and the then-acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot Jr., Trump raised the questions of NASA’s plans for Mars.
A month before this meeting, Trump signed new legislation which enabled NASA to prepare for human expeditions to Mars in the 2030s. However, when Lightfoot Jr. brought this up during the meeting, Trump responded by asking him, “but is there any way we could do it by the end of my first term?”
The NASA boss replied by explaining the major logistical challenges the organization would face in sending a manned mission to Mars.
“But what if I gave you all the money you could ever need to do it?” the book claims Trump said in response. “What if we sent NASA’s budget through the roof, but focused entirely on that instead of whatever else you’re doing now. Could it work then?”
According to Sims, the president was visibly disappointed to be told by Lightfoot Jr. that he didn’t think it would be possible.
Shortly after this meeting, Trump had a scheduled phone call with U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson to congratulate her on breaking the U.S. record for most time in space. According to Sims, he raised the Mars question once again.
Whitson replied by gently explaining to the president that spaceflight involves a lot of time and money, and even suggested getting to Mars will require collaboration with other countries.
When pushed on a timeframe, she said, “I think, as your bill directed, it will be in the 2030s.” Trump is reported to have replied to this by saying this was too far away.
“We want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second term, so we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, OK?” he is reported to have said.
“We’ll do our best,” Whitson is said to have replied.
Later in the same conversation, Sims claims that Trump said, “I think we’ll do that a lot sooner than we’re even thinking. Who’s ready to go to Mars up there?”
“We are absolutely ready to go to Mars,” Whitson replied.