Trump does aboutface on going to the moon |

Trump does aboutface on going to the moon

The Washington Post
“For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon — We did that 50 years ago.” President Trump tweeted Friday. Just 25 days earlier, Trump had tweeted his support for the lunar return.

ORLANDO, Fla. — President Trump executed a cosmic flip flop in priorities Friday when he tweeted that the United States should not keep talking about going back to the moon, despite his administration’s insistence that the United States should, in fact, go back 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. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!” Trump tweeted Friday afternoon.

Just 25 days earlier, Trump had tweeted his support for the lunar return, a mission that his administration placed as the highest priority for NASA when it issued Space Policy Directive 1 in 2017 instructing NASA to get boots back on the lunar surface.

On May 13, Trump tweeted, “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!”

In the time between the two tweets, NASA has been working to secure that $1.6 billion increase in funding to its proposed $21 billion budget for 2020 to accelerate a mission to the moon. The agency was originally targeting 2028 for a lunar mission, but Vice President Mike Pence changed that deadline to 2024 during a speech in March.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has spoken at length about the importance of the moon mission and establishing a sustainable presence on the moon, so that the agency can test out technologies that could later be implemented on Mars. But the moon is a critical step that can’t be curtailed before humans safely travel to Mars, Bridenstine and NASA have maintained.

In speaking about the request to increase NASA’s funding, Bridenstine said the agency had told the White House what it would need in 2020 to make a 2024 lunar landing feasible.

“They responded with what we requested and we are very proud of that,” Bridenstine said during a call with reporters last month.

NASA did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Trump’s tweet Friday throws a wrench in the efforts NASA has been undertaking to align the political, public and financial support needed to make a lunar landing possible. The nation hasn’t succeeded at the task since 1972. While other presidents have tried to drum up support for crewed moon missions, none since John F. Kennedy have succeeded.

Although it’s not clear what Trump meant by “of which the Moon is part,” it appears the president wants NASA to focus more on the Mars portion of the so-called “Moon to Mars” program, despite the fact that the president signed a policy directive in December 2017 that specifically addressed the lunar portion of that program.

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” Trump said at the time. “It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use. This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints — we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond.”

Bridenstine spoke to how changing political attitudes can affect lunar missions at a speech at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne last month. At the time, though, he was speaking about changing priorities across different administrations, not inconsistent priorities within the same administration.

“The reason we are not on the moon right now is because of the political risk,” Bridenstine said. “Priorities change, budgets change, Congresses change, administrations change, and it gets zeroed out. And now we have another administration that says it’s important for strategic presence, it’s important for international partnerships, it’s important for resources, it’s important for science, that the United States be on the moon.”

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