Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, but there seems to be only one thing on President Donald Trump’s mind: “Mars direct.”
On Friday, in the Oval Office, the president made an address to commemorate the anniversary while surrounded by NASA officials, astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, and Neil Armstrong’s family.
Trump repeatedly asked NASA’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, why astronauts couldn’t go straight to Mars rather than stopping at the moon first.
“To get to Mars, you have to land on the Moon, they say,” Trump said to Bridenstine, according to Politico. “Any way of going directly without landing on the Moon? Is that a possibility?”
Bridenstine explained to the president that the moon is a “proving ground” for any human mission to Mars. The atmosphere and landscape allow NASA to test out life-supporting technologies needed for extended periods of time on the red planet.
“When we go to Mars, we’re going to have to be there for a long period of time, so we need to learn how to live and work on another world,” said Bridenstine.
Trump has become more vocal about his love for Mars in recent months. On June 7, Trump tweeted that “NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon,” and that the U.S. had already been there 50 years ago.
An incredible achievement in our history. We celebrate the 50th anniversary of the #Apollo11 Moon landing. Honored to have @therealbuzz @astromcollins & family of Neil Armstrong join us today. America is built by those who make the impossible possible. @NASA pic.twitter.com/hrFh4K4VUf
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) July 19, 2019
“They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!” he wrote.
Trump renewed his interest in the red planet during the anniversary address. He asked Collins his thoughts on going straight to Mars.
“Mars direct,” Collins said, suggesting that NASA should bypass the moon testing ground and go straight to Mars.
“It seems to me Mars direct. I mean, who knows better than these people. They’ve been doing this stuff for a long time. What about the concept of Mars direct?” Trump asked Bridenstine.
Again, Bridenstine explained to the president that there are a lot of unknown variables to a “Mars direct” mission.
“The challenge is if we go direct to Mars, there’s going to be a lot of things that we haven’t yet proven out,” Bridenstine said.
“So you feel that really landing on the Moon first and figuring it out and getting ready to launch — and you would like to, you really feel launching, you’re essentially launching from the Moon to Mars?” Trump asked.
“The best way to think about it is we learn how to live and work on the Moon, but we launch to Mars from a space station that we have in orbit around the Moon — a space station we call Gateway,” said Bridenstine.
The president and space experts talked about future Americans living and working on the moon during today's White House event marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11.
"That's a market," NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said. "It could be for tourism. It could be for resources" pic.twitter.com/GwbKaoVfgO
— POLITICO (@politico) July 19, 2019
The Trump administration’s goal for a deep space presence is to go to the moon. The first space policy directive Trump signed in 2017 was to send people back to the moon in order to establish a sustainable presence there, according to The Independent.
In April, Vice President Mike Pence challenged NASA with sending humans back to the moon by 2024. NASA has a program to meet the deadline called “Artemis,” which aims to send the first woman to the moon.