Donald Trump at a rally

Trump promised Nasa the moon to achieve manned Mars mission

Image credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

According to an upcoming book, written by a White House insider, US President Donald Trump offered Nasa “all the money you could ever need” to put American astronauts on Mars.

During a video call to the International Space Station (ISS) in April 2017 to congratulate former Chief Astronaut Peggy Whitson on her record-breaking time spent in space, Trump demanded on-air that the agency put astronauts on Mars “while I’m President”. When Whitson reminded Trump that he had previously directed the agency to reach Mars in the 2030s, Trump commented that the mission should “speed up” to put astronauts on Mars during his first term or “at worst” during his second term.

According to Intelligencer, upcoming book ‘Team of Vipers’, written by former Trump official Cliff Sims, reveals that Trump was entirely serious about his demands. Sims claims that Trump demanded to know what the benefit of a space presence was, before commenting in a “rare moment of wistfulness” minutes before the ISS video call that: “We don’t capture imaginations anymore. We used to do big things – incredible things. No one could do the things we do. […] How cool is Nasa?”

According to Sims, Trump turned to then-Nasa administrator Robert Lightfood Jr. and asked what Nasa’s plans for Mars were. Trump “bristled” when reminded that Nasa had plans to put astronauts on Mars in the 2030s and demanded if it could be done during his first term. Lightfoot attempted to explain politely to Trump that there were immense logistical challenges involved, including extreme distances, limited fuel capacity and “the fact that we hadn’t landed an American anywhere remotely close to Mars ever”.

Trump persevered, asking if it would be possible to put astronauts on Mars within an accelerated timeline if he gave the agency “all the money you could ever need” for the task. “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?” the President reportedly said.

Lightfoot apologised and explained that he did not think it would be possible, leaving Trump disappointed. According to Sims, Trump then walked out of the Oval Office just seconds before the carefully scheduled call in order to check his appearance in the bathroom mirror, telling his reflection: “Space Station, this is your President.”

Trump’s budget for the past fiscal year proposed defunding of a number of Nasa projects, including the ISS, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope project, five Nasa Earth studies, as well as its outreach and education department, while shifting attention to exploration of the Moon and Mars. Last year, the government also removed all funding from Nasa’s carbon monitoring system, which is used to track carbon reduction efforts.

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