President Donald Trump’s inauguration speech lends credence to reports that he discussed sending humans to Mars in a private meeting with billionaire Elon Musk earlier this week.
Trump directly vowed to “unlock the mysteries of space” during his inaugural address.
Musk, the founder of the private space company SpaceX, made two trips to Trump Tower during the transition period and discussed how NASA could be primed to send astronauts to Mars using public-private partnerships, according to The Washington Post. Trump also met this week with space program historian Douglas Brinkley about the Apollo program, which took NASA to the moon during the 1960s.
Experts have long suspected that Trump’s space program will likely be focused on exploration with robotic probes and later, sending humans to Mars, using money diverted from NASA’s global warming science programs — stripped from exploration programs under the previous administration. Another billionaire space entrepreneur, Robert Bigelow, thinks that Trump could potentially double NASA’s budget.
America is better prepared to visit Mars than it was to visit the Moon in the 1960s, according to a study by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The total cost of current plans to send Americans to Mars comes out to roughly $35 billion spent by 2025 to arrive in 2030.
Industry analysts suspect that Trump will likely increase NASA’s overall budget while slashing many programs supported by President Barack Obama. Additional money for Mars exploration could potentially be diverted from NASA’s troubled Asteroid Redirect Mission, which was also heavily supported by Obama.
“A number of prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill think that NASA should not be involved to the degree that it is in Earth science,” Jeff Foust, a senior writer at the trade publication Space News, told Space.com. “I would certainly expect to see some sort of development in terms of potential reduction to NASA’s Earth science program.”
Experts previously blamed the agency’s problems on Obama focusing NASA on global warming. Obama repeatedly tried to slash space exploration funding and redirect it to Earth science programs, which include climate modelling initiatives designed to measure global warming. Obama increased NASA’s budget for environmental programs by 63 percent at the expense of its exploration budget.
Such delays and budget cuts have given China a lead in planning missions to Mars. The country is rapidly catching up to the space programs of NASA and the U.S. military, for which both congressional Republicans and Democrats blame President Barack Obama.
Trump could slash the more than $2 billion NASA spends on its Earth Science Mission Directorate, which covers global warming science, such as improved climate modelling and weather prediction. Other NASA functions, such as astrophysics and space technology, are currently only getting a mere $781.5 and $826.7 million, respectively.
“NASA should be focused primarily on deep-space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies,” Robert S. Walker and Peter Navarro, both senior advisers to the Trump campaign, wrote in an opinion piece published in Space News before the election. “Human exploration of our entire solar system by the end of this century should be NASA’s focus and goal.”
Trump’s vice president, former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, pledged on Twitter in late October to head up a reinstated National Space Council, which would dictate much of U.S. space policy and coordinate civil and military space agencies. The Council is traditionally headed up by the sitting vice president. Obama promised to re-establish the organization before taking office, but never actually did it.