Trump: ‘American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream’
During President Donald Trump’s first address to Congress, he made a single reference to human space exploration. However, the Feb. 28, 2017, speech, which included a number of priority policy items, did not give any clue to any proposed direction the 45th U.S. president has in mind for NASA.
Space exploration was mentioned near the end of the nearly 90-minute address. It came during a moment when Trump was comparing the innovations from 1876, the U.S. centennial, to what 2026, the 250th anniversary of the founding of the U.S., may hold for America’s future.
“Think of the marvels we can achieve if we simply set free the dreams of our people,” Trump said. “Cures to illnesses that have always plagued us are not too much to hope. American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.”
Trump said this vision, which also included making references of lifting millions out of welfare, creating streets where mothers are safe from fear and school children learn in peace, is not too much to ask for.
“When we have all of this, we will have made America greater than ever before,” Trump said. “For all Americans.”
The first step to realizing any of these goals, space related or not, is for the Trump administration to release its fiscal year 2018 budget proposal. According to Space Policy Online, a “budget blueprint” has already been delivered to agencies by the Office of Management and Budget to provide guidance. A detailed request, however, will not be submitted to Congress for a number of weeks.
It was reported in the days before the president’s speech that the administration is expected to ask for a $54 billion increase for the defense department. This would be countered with an equal decrease in discretionary, non-entitlement spending, which includes NASA. What agencies ultimately get cuts and how deep those cuts are is still unknown.
Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, the ranking member of the House Committee on Science and Technology, gave a statement hours before the president’s address expressing concern about the few details about potential cuts on science and education spending.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it – research and education lead to innovation, innovation leads to economic development, good paying jobs, and the revenue to pay for more research,” Johnson said. “The only responsible course of action for our nation is to invest in our research agencies, not hamstring them with draconian cuts.”
NASA is still waiting for the Trump administration to nominate a new NASA administrator. Currently standing in as acting administrator is Robert Lightfoot, who was previously the director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
On Feb. 15, 2017, Lightfoot ordered the space agency to look into the possibility of putting a crew on the first Space Launch System flight, Exploration Mission (EM) 1. The previous plan called for the SLS to fly uncrewed in late 2018 followed by a crewed flight around the Moon no earlier than late 2021.
In a Feb. 24, 2017, teleconference, William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator, said the White house asked the space agency to look into the EM-1 crew option. However, there has been no guarantee of any new money.
Less than two weeks later, on Feb. 27, SpaceX announced that two individuals paid a significant deposit for a flight using the NewSpace company’s Crew Dragon and Falcon Heavy to go on a flight around the Moon in late 2018, a full year ahead of any accelerated crew plans NASA is looking at.
Whether these two announcements are related in any way regarding a potential space policy direction for the Trump administration or are just an interesting coincidence is yet to be seen. For now, the agency is continuing on its current path of working to certify the two Commercial Crew Program spacecraft, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, for flights to the International Space Station late next year.
Additionally, while the study of potentially putting people on EM-1 is ongoing, NASA has reiterated that the current plan of readying the first SLS flight as an uncrewed mission is moving forward as originally baselined.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.