Trump Undercuts His Own NASA Policy On Twitter

Over the weekend, the President took to Twitter and appeared to undercut the NASA policy that he himself endorsed just weeks ago.

While he was overseas, President Trump unleashed a volley of tweets aimed at NASA, currently headed by an Administrator that he had nominated regarding a space program policy that his own Administration has endorsed:

For months the Trump administration has been proclaiming an Apollo-like urgency to return astronauts to the moon within five years. On Friday, President Trump appeared to suggest on Twitter that NASA was focusing on the wrong goal.

Aspects of the administration’s space policy have been widely praised, including a renewed focus on the moon, measures to reduce the danger of space debris to astronauts and satellites as well as a more entrepreneurial approach in big space projects. Many of these efforts have been formulated by the National Space Council, restored under Mr. Trump’s administration and led by Vice President Mike Pence.

Mr. Pence announced in February a push to accelerate a landing by astronauts on the moon to 2024 from 2028. That drew criticisms that speedier pace was driven by politics — so that it would occur during Mr. Trump’s second term if he were re-elected — and not by technical or science considerations.

NASA officials have also not disclosed an estimate for how much an accelerated moon program would cost. In an updated budget request, they asked for an additional $1.6 billion for fiscal year 2020, which starts on Oct. 1.

Although Mr. Pence has been the moon return’s biggest cheerleader, Mr. Trump was supportive of the revised budget request when it was sent to Congress last month.

At a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council last week, William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said that it was unlikely that appropriators in Congress would agree to provide all the money needed for a 2024 moon landing, and that the agency would likely have to cut the budgets for other areas of the space agency.

Hours after the tweet was sent, a White House official attempted to clarify Mr. Trump’s meaning, saying that the administration’s space goals were unchanged. The official added that by seeking additional resources for a journey to the moon within the next five years, the Trump administration intended to accelerate a crewed American visit to Mars.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, tweeted the agency’s only comment on Mr. Trump’s statement so far, highlighting robotic missions to Mars.

More from The Washington Post:

President Trump on Friday criticized NASA for promoting its plan to return to the moon before human exploration of Mars, a strategy that Trump endorsed in a directive early in his tenure and championed as recently as last month.

“For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon — We did that 50 years ago,” Trump said on Twitter. “They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!”

The tweet, sent from Air Force One as Trump returned from a trip to Europe, did not make clear whether he thinks the strategy should be entirely abandoned or whether he was more concerned about how NASA was branding the strategy.

A White House official sought to downplay any difference between what Trump had tweeted and existing policy.

“Our Administration’s goal has always been to get to Mars,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity, in an email. “We have asked Congress for additional resources to get to the Moon by 2024, which will enable us to get to Mars roughly a decade after creating a sustainable presence on the lunar surface. Under POTUS, America is leading again in space.”

A tweet later Friday by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine did little to clarify the impact of Trump’s tweet.

“As @POTUS said, @NASA is using the Moon to send humans to Mars!” the tweet said. “Right now, @MarsCuriosity and @NASAInSight are on Mars and will soon be joined by the Mars 2020 rover and the Mars helicopter.”

Trump’s tweet was sent shortly after Fox Business host Neil Cavuto questioned on air why NASA is “refocusing on the moon, the next sort of quest, if you will” and asked: “But didn’t we do this moon thing quite a few decades ago?”

The policy of first going back to the moon grew from a unanimous recommendation by the new National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Pence, after its first meeting in October 2017.

At a ceremony where Trump signed a directive regarding the policy two months later, he said first returning to the moon would “establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond.”

In a tweet three weeks ago, Trump touted his administration’s commitment to space exploration, writing: “Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars.”

Here’s Trump’s tweet:

And here’s the response from NASA’s Administrator:

For some time, Twitter was alive with jokes about the President’s apparent claim that “the Moon is part of Mars.” It seems pretty clear, though, that what the President was referring to is the fact that the current NASA plan provides that the upcoming missions to the Moon are meant to be a prelude for an eventual mission to Mars. This is a plan that the President himself endorsed and which his Vice-President, who is heading up the White House’s space effort, hs specifically endorsed in speeches as recently as February. Why he is now seemingly bashing it is something that makes no sense whatsoever.

What makes the President’s remarks even stranger is the fact that he not only endorsed the idea just weeks ago but also directed NASA to do its best to ensure that there were astronauts back on the Moon by 2024, just five years from now. This, obviously, is going to require a much larger investment in manned space flight than the Administration is currently devoting, and there’s a good likelihood that target it is overly optimistic.

The answer to the question of what motivated the President’s tweet appears to be answered by the section I highlighted above. Trump was reacting, as he often does, to a report he saw on Fox News Channel. An ordinary President who sees something like that on the news, of course, would likely have asked his aides for clarification. But not this President. This President decided that the best thing to do was to pick up his smartphone and start ranting on Twitter. This is not the behavior of a rational person who actually understands what his Administration is doing. It is the behavior of a child.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CSK says:

    Oh, come now. Clearly he forgot what he said about the policy a month ago. A month is an eternity in Trump World. Not that he would have grasped it at the time.

  2. DrDaveT says:

    Trump’s slavish devotion to Faux News is far scarier than anything he might do or say about the space program or NASA*. I could wish his fetish were for something less pernicious — say, The Love Boat or Starsky and Hutch reruns…

    *With the exception of NASA’s earth observation programs, which have enormous immediate economic and social value. Of course, those are the ones most likely to be slashed, since they keep confirming all of that global warming “fake news”.

  3. Mu says:

    And here I was hoping that all the stuff we developed for the last moon push finally would come back to life.

  4. Kathy says:

    If we see nay US astronauts on the Moon by 2024, it will be because a superior alien spacefaring species gave them a ride there.

    Oh, maybe a just-for-show mission might be possible if you throw away enough money on it, and are extraordinarily lucky in the development, and are willing to take huge risks.

    As to going to Mars, let me know when someone finds a way to bring back a crew that can live a normal lifetime. Exposure to radiation for months makes that highly unlikely.

    But besides that, lots of people would trade years off their lives for a trip to Mars, it would cost a lot of money. We’re talking in the range of trillions of dollars.

    Keep in mind, too, that as of 2011, America has no means of getting people to the ISS at all. Thus grandiose plans for putting people on the Moon, or using the Moon as a platform for building a mission to Mars, is a bit like planning a grand airline with supersonic jets and flights all over the world, when you don’t own even a beat-up 737 you can use for shuttle flights between NY and DC.

  5. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    No one can snort that much adderall and still remember what they said a month ago.

  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    Sending humans to Mars = A huge waste of money. But worth it if Trump, Pence and McConnell are in the capsule.

  7. DrDaveT says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    But worth it if Trump, Pence and McConnell are in the capsule.

    The Marching Morons“, Cyril Kornbluth

  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Like the credit card commercial:

    Sending astronauts to Mars: Costly.
    Sending Trump, Pence, and McConnell to Mars: Priceless!

  9. gVOR08 says:

    It seems pretty clear, though, that what the President was referring to is the fact that the current NASA plan provides that the upcoming missions to the Moon are meant to be a prelude for an eventual mission to Mars.

    It isn’t at all clear, it’s just the only rationalization of his nonsense that makes any real world sense. For him everything is PR. The only point to saying we will go to the Moon and Mars in the first place was to inflate his ego and image. Then NASA stepped on his message by talking about the relatively mundane, and doable, Moon instead of BSing about Mars for him. (See @Kathy: on why it’s BS) But really, is it our job to rationalize his brain worm driven ramblings, or can we just point and laugh?

    Remember when we had a President who was not only smart, decent, and dedicated to the country, but also exceptionally articulate? It was only a few years ago.

  10. Kathy says:


    (See @Kathy: on why it’s BS)

    Because it came out of Trump’s facial rectum.

    Remember when we had a President

    Yes. Yes, I do.

    Back on topic, models of the Solar System are never to scale. If they were, they’d be mostly empty space with nearly invisible planets. Some graphic models try to give a sense of the distance between planets, and they do a fair job if we consider all limitations. nevertheless, the impression many people have is that the planets are kind of bunched up nearly together, and therefore once you’re in “outer space” everything is nearby. So, Moon, Mars, venus, Pluto, it’s all out there.

    For all that, here’s an interesting fact: if you stood on the surface of Mars on a clear day at the right time of year, you could see the Moon with the naked eye (provided it’s at a point in its orbit to one side of the Earth, rather than in front or behind it). It would look like a dim star, moving in formation with another, brighter star, and would appear only at dawn or sunset, much like we see Venus or Mercury as morning or evening “stars.”

  11. grumpy realist says:

    Based on some of the comments I heard from NASA-related individuals at ISDC, they’re just ignoring Trump’s inanities. The fact is, the best way to make sure we can get to Mars is go back to the Moon first and use it as a proving station for all of the required technology. Hence all the plans I was hearing about focused on going back to the Moon and creating semi-permanent settlements.

  12. Slugger says:

    But we are still getting the Space Force, right? I can’t get over the idea of a military branch full of Erin Gray like warriors, and I bet Mr. Trump likes the idea , too.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:


    As to going to Mars, let me know when someone finds a way to bring back a crew that can live a normal lifetime. Exposure to radiation for months makes that highly unlikely.

    This x 1,000. Every time the subject of sending humans to Mars comes up this is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge is there. Well, nobody with the exception of anyone who has a clue of what sending a human to Mars actually entails.

  14. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Kathy: In my ancestral hometown of Gainesville, FL, there is a scale model of the solar system built alongside a street that crosses a creek valley. It’s particularly impressive when you drive west to east, from the sun to Pluto, watching as the distances between planets get longer and longer.

  15. Kathy says:


    The simple solution is adding lead lining to the crew area, or surrounding the thing with water. It can be done. But this adds a lot, and I mean a LOT, of mass to the ship, which requires a hell of a lot more fuel, which increases the cost of the mission substantially, and likely reduce what can be taken to/from Mars.

    Maybe we can generate and shape a strong enough magnetic field to deflect much of the radiation, like our dear planet does for us, but as yet no one knows how, and it would require a lot of energy. And if it malfunctions, curtains.

    And once on Mars, the problem persists. Mars has no magnetic field and barely an atmosphere. But on Mars you can burrow underground and be protected by thick layers of red dirt. Still, when working outside the burrow, you’ll be exposed again, though physical protection for one person are possible to reduce the impact of radiation. time spent outside will be limited.

  16. Kathy says:


    I think I’ve heard about it. It’s like a mile long and has sculpture representing each planet, right?

  17. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Kathy: That’s right.

  18. Moosebreath says:


    There’s another one in Ithaca, New York, though it begins in an area where cars are not permitted.