Donald Trump mentioned space briefly in his inaugural address on Friday.
We stand at the birth of a new millennium ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.
What this means is anyone’s guess.
There have been stories that Trump is considering sticking with plans to send astronauts to Mars. Also that he has been meeting with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who has a plan to do exactly that. It’s the sort of dramatic plan that might appeal to Trump’s desire to make America great.
On the other hand, there’s this story from The Hill: Trump team prepares dramatic cuts. Although the story makes no mention of NASA, it makes clear that Trump seems prepared to deeply cut federal spending.
And here is the dilemma that has frustrated presidents that has frustrated presidents for decades relating to space. It’s easy enough to raise your arms and point to the moon or Mars and say let’s go, but much more difficult to fund the program sufficiently to actually go there.
The one thing that might — and I stress, might — work is for Trump to cancel SLS and Orion and see if the private sector can produce cheaper alternatives for deep space exploration.
But, therein lies the other dilemma that has frustrated presidents. Congress would oppose such a move with every fiber of its being. Trump might be stubborn enough to stick with such a decision, but who knows if he even wants to make it. Large layoffs in states like Alabama, Texas and Florida that were vital to putting in the White House would make it more difficult for him to stay there.
While Trump works out his plans, the transition at NASA has already begun. Administrator Charlie Bolden and Deputy Administrator Dava Newman both left their positions yesterday because they were political appointees of Barack Obama.
Robert Lightfoot, the space agency’s top civil servant, is serving as acting administrator until Trump nominated a permanent replacement and he or she is confirmed by the Senate.
Trump has made a pair of appointments relating to the agency. The new president has named Greg Autry as White House liaison to NASA. Autry is assistant professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California. He was part of the landing team assigned to the agency during the transition.
The president has also named Erik Noble as White House senior advisor at NASA. Noble worked on the Trump campaign and worked as a scientists on atmospheric science at the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York City for seven years.