On Friday, President Donald Trump openly criticized NASA for their promotion of a plan to return to the moon prior to going to Mars, but the approach was, in fact, endorsed by the president in a directive issued early in his presidency, The Washington Post reports. As recently as last month, Trump was touting his support of the plan.
Friday, however, was a different story. The president tweeted in no uncertain terms that the space program should not be promoting a return to the moon.
“For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon — We did that 50 years ago,” Trump said. “They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!”
The tweet was sent from aboard Air Force One as Trump came back from a trip to Europe and it did not make immediately clear whether it was a criticism of the strategy itself or just NASA’s public branding around it.
The White House so far has not responded to requests for clarification.
The policy itself, which advocates for returning to the moon prior to setting sights on the more ambitious goal of reaching Mars, stems from a unanimous recommendation by the National Space Council, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.
— The Hill (@thehill) June 8, 2019
Trump personally echoed the sentiment in a signing ceremony for the directive, where he indicated that going back to the moon would indeed create a foundation for a mission to Mars and potentially to other destinations even further away.
More recently, the president has made statements in enthusiastic support of an approach similar to that described by NASA.
“Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars. I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!,” he tweeted in May.
Prior to that, Pence, in an impassioned address in March, cheered that NASA was moving up its timeline for returning to the moon, aiming for 2024. In that speech, he characterized the challenge as part of a renewed space race against competing powers like Russia and China.
In pubic documents, NASA has consistently maintained that the exploration of the moon and Mars are intertwined. The agency has not yet responded to requests for comments following Trump’s tweet.