After years of the White House pushing NASA’s human exploration programs back toward the lunar surface, President Trump tweeted today that the space agency should not be focused on the Moon, but instead on Mars, defense, and science.
In order to meet the administration's aggressive timetable, the space agency needs focus and resources. Presidential tweets such as this one, in which Trump said the administration should not be playing up its moon mission, can cause confusion and sap morale for those working on this project.
Such statements could also make it more difficult for the space agency to muster support on Capitol Hill for the money it needs to accomplish the goal, which involves returning humans to the Moon as a step on the way to reaching Mars.
Trump’s tweet is also confusing, as he claims that the Moon is “a part” of Mars. It’s possible that Trump may be referring to a common refrain from NASA that the Moon is a proving ground for Mars exploration. Many engineers and scientists argue that the lunar surface is a great place to test out technologies that will be needed to send humans to the Red Planet in the long run.
While on its surface the tweet appears to withdraw support for the moon program, known as Artemis, the truth is likely more complicated. NASA is planning to use its Artemis Moon mission as a jumping off point for getting to Mars. The agency's big push at the moment, however, is shoring up resources to get them back to the Moon.
Effectively, Trump appears to be giving NASA marketing advice, saying the agency should be talking more about Mars, and less about the Moon.