Trump’s plan for NASA leaves more questions than answers

In this image from NASA TV, the SpaceX Falcon rocket launches from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. It's carrying a load of supplies for the International Space Station. (NASA TV/AP)

Outer space is one of humanity’s great fascinations. Its mystery has made it one of the most consistently debated topics in modern history. That is, it always has seemed to be until now. Since the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958, it has served the primary role for American research and exploration of outer space, while remaining under the watchful eye of the executive branch. This essentially means that in addition to all of the other responsibilities and privileges that the President of the United States is granted, he or she is also in charge of our country’s space program.

Surprisingly enough, while President Trump has been vocal on virtually every other policy or opinion that he could possibly have, when it comes to his point of view on NASA, Trump has remained eerily quiet. In fact, until Jan. 25, when Congress had their first hearing regarding the program, neither the president nor his advisors had anything to offer. This lack of explanation on the president’s part has left many people wondering: just what does Donald Trump plan to do with NASA?

Unfortunately, the recent congressional meeting on the subject did little to answer any questions, and may have just created more. Some felt that NASA’s focus should be on moving forward with plans for a Mars expedition, while others felt that we should return to the Moon by 2020. Still, others question what Trump plans to do with NASA’s Earth Science division, which handles research regarding climate change, something the president is expected to defund. Overall, it does seem that Trump is planning to take bolder action with regards to our space program compared to his predecessor, however it still remains up in the air as to what his actions will entail.

As much of the recent pop culture and media attention regarding outer space has been devoted to the idea of Mars, it seems strange to think that we would want to go anywhere else. If the space program is about exploration, then why wouldn’t we explore new territory? And more importantly, why would we go back to the moon if there isn’t anything for us there? Apparently some of Trump’s advisors disagree and think that there is something left for us on the moon. In fact, some of them believe that there is a “trillion-dollar per year industry” just waiting for us to make our return to the moon.

According to former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, who has close ties with Trump and his administration, “A good part of the Trump administration would like a lot more aggressive, risk-taking, competitive entrepreneurial approach to space.” While talk of this “entrepreneurial approach” has been vague so far, it seems as though some advisors to the president would like to see “lunar landers staking out de facto 'property rights' for American on the Moon, by 2020 as well”.

While this is most certainly an interesting approach to the space program, and not completely unexpected given Trump’s lifetime as a businessman, it seems that one small overlooked detail might be that land on the moon cannot be of much use to us. Of course, as Americans, if there is something up for grabs we always want to be the first to put our names on it, and that concept certainly applies here. This is not to say that the project would go to waste completely, as it could help the economy by creating new jobs and industries, but this is only if the project is successful and could certainly take more than three years.

As with outer space, there are still many unknowns when it comes to President Trump’s plans for NASA. With many options and an abundance of advisors that seem more opinionated on the subject than he himself does, it seems like NASA is well on its way to some new project. We will just have to wait and see what it is. But with a $ 19 billion budget, we will just have to hope that whatever he does decide for NASA, it isn’t another one of his failed business ploys.


Emma Hungaski is an opinion contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.hungaski@uconn.edu.