The Atlantic

Trump’s Space Ambitions Are Too Big for One President

The reality of space travel squashed his impulsive desire to reach Mars in his first term rather than in the 2030s.
Source: Susan Walsh / AP

It is not the job of presidents to know the specifics of space exploration and its mind-bending physics, or to contemplate deeply the timescales and technology required for a high-stakes mission to another planet. But usually they have some sense of what’s remotely possible, and of what they’ve asked their space agency to do.

In the spring of 2017, President Donald Trump signed a significant piece of legislation about the future of NASA. The bill, among other things, reaffirmed a top priority for the American space program: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s.

Then, it seems, the president forgot all about it.

A month after signing the bill, Trump reportedly asked the then–acting administrator of NASA whether the space agency could send American astronauts to Mars by the end of his first term, and even offered him “all the money you could ever need” to make it happen. The NASA official politely turned him down, explaining that such a fast turnaround to a distant planet wasn’t possible.

The exchange, which took place in the Oval Office, appears, a forthcoming book by the former White House official Cliff Sims, and was by magazine this week.

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