Showing yet again his penchant for inconsistency (and a poor choice of words), President Trump’s latest tweet about the moon contradicted his own stated policies. In the last few months Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have announced that a planned trip to the moon by 2028 would be accelerated to 2024 and an additional $1.6 billion would be allocated to achieve that, but then Trump tweeted yesterday that “NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon – We did that 50 years ago”. The poor choice of words came in when Trump said NASA should instead be focused on bigger things, like “Mars (of which the Moon is a part)”.
Now any person who bothers to proofread their tweets before posting them (or to have their staff do so) would have realized that last bit would sound like Trump thought our moon was part of Mars. What he likely actually meant is that the moon may be a base or staging area or base for trips to Mars. The ‘been there – done that’ aspect of Trump’s tweet, however, is myopic to say the least. There is much still to learn from the moon, and even from Trump’s perspective of value being from exploiting resources, there are many untapped resources on the moon – whether that exploitation should happen is a separate subject, but Trump appeared not even to recognize those possibilities. According to The Atlantic:
Less than three months ago, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Trump administration’s goal of sending a crew to the moon by 2028 would be accelerated by four years; in the past month, the president has said that he wants an additional $1.6 billion dedicated to that aim. But in a tweet sent Friday afternoon, the president chastised NASA for doing exactly the job he’d instructed it to do. …Trump isn’t the first president to suggest a return to the moon, and he’s also not the first to suggest skipping that costly, time-consuming, already-made trip in favor of putting a foot on Mars. But he’s the first to muddle both plans in quite this way. …The backtracking implied by Trump’s tweet carries enormous weight for a government agency that’s all too familiar with the bait and switch of being redirected halfway through a project. NASA has a long legacy of being hampered by presidential turnovers, which can hinder any worthwhile, groundbreaking project from making it to fruition. … Barack Obama spent his time in office pushing for a decades-away Mars mission—exactly what it appears Trump, who cut Obama’s plans off at the pass with his moon-and-militia fixation, now wants.
Trump’s tweet read in full, “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!”
It is clear from Trump’s previously stated accelerated timeline for a moon mission that he would like a major NASA accomplishment before what would be the end of his second term, if he gets a second term, because Trump wants the credit for it. Given his vanity, he probably would want a moon base, if one is created, to be named after him. Going to Mars on that timeline, however, would be very unrealistic – it is more likely a several decades long proposition, and sending people at all rather than just unmanned probes may not be either necessary or advisable – it certainly is not cost-effective. Up until now, Trump’s approach on space has been not so interested in science as in militarizing space, through his Space Force, which is perhaps implied in his advocating “Defense” in his tweet about Mars and the moon. In the last few months, as described above, Trump and Pence have focused on the moon, accelerating the timetable for returning to the moon and allocating money toward doing so, all, apparently, to be undone via this tweet, unless and until a new tweet reverses it all again. Mercurial and impulsive, Trump is not a wealth of consistency or logical progression, which could be a big problem in a long term plan from NASA that would require both.