There’s no shortage of speculation about what changes are to come under a Donald Trump presidency in a variety of areas. One of these areas is NASA, and there is plenty to speculate about. Trump hasn’t been very vocal about his plans for the future of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, but there are some signs pointing to changes he wants to make.
Much of the information that is currently available comes not from the horse’s mouth, but from Robert S. Walker, who wrote the proposed space policy of president-elect Trump, and is also a former chairman of the House Science Committee. His thoughts about the future of NASA offer the best guesses as to what is to come.
Less Earth Science
One thing is pretty clear when it comes to Trump’s thoughts on our space program. He wants NASA to put its energy towards deep space exploration and propelling humans into the depths of our solar system rather than Earth science research.
The vision and reasoning here is to develop and keep jobs for the middle class, maintain pace with other countries who haven’t slowed their space exploration and continue with vigorous military initiatives, and inspire Americans to see space as a frontier again.
Currently, NASA puts some of its focus on launching satellites whose purpose is to observe the Earth and collect data regarding things like the climate and weather. These are important trends to study and they play a large role in what we know about climate change, but Trump doesn’t think that this responsibility should fall on NASA.
In an October policy speech, Trump spoke of refocusing NASA on space exploration versus low Earth orbit activity (LEO). NASA, under a Trump administration, might focus on bigger projects — but whether NASA wants the change or not is unknown.
Instead, Trump could give the LEO monitoring job to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). The problem here is that he wants to give NOAA a huge increase in responsibility, with little to no increase in federal funding. Meaning that there is a large possibility that our Earth science studies and what we know about our climate may come to a screeching halt.
This is pretty convenient for Donald Trump, who is a known skeptic about global warming and the state of our environment.
The Moon and Mars
It is not known whether a Trump administration will favor exploration of the Moon or of Mars first. Both of these are currently goals of NASA, but their focus has switched back and forth depending on their leadership and the federal funding they received.
It is possible that NASA will continue working towards their goal of putting humans on Mars within the next few decades, or they may switch gears and set out to explore the entire surface of the Moon. Some people also believe in a best of both worlds scenario: that NASA will adopt both a short-term goal of heavier moon exploration and a long-term goal of sending humans to the moon.
Either way, a goal of Walker’s is to have human exploration of the entire Solar System by the end of the century. A lofty goal, but if anyone can achieve it, it would be NASA. After all, NASA has successfully sent humans to space and back using incredible technology and advanced science.
Partnerships to Continue
The Obama administration focused heavily on public-private partnerships for NASA, which is when NASA partnered with commercial companies to fulfill a research and exploration need. For example, they partnered with SpaceX to bring cargo to and from the International Space Station. The Trump administration will likely keep these partnerships in play and continue to allow NASA to work with these other companies.
Additionally, it is likely that Trump will bring back the National Space Council, a group that has not been active since 1993. This group is headed by the Vice President and exists to ensure that each sector of NASA is advancing United States interests.
One of the responsibilities of this council would be to ensure that NASA works efficiently. For example, NASA often creates launch vehicles and works on other large projects that are essentially duplicates, used for different sectors or missions. Two different sectors of NASA could be working on projects that are essentially identical to each other, taking federal funds from tax-payer dollars for both. This council would be in charge of eliminating these duplicates, in order to save energy, time and money.
Overall, only time will tell how a Trump presidency will affect the goals and funding of NASA. Everyone is hoping for a smooth transition with as little disruption as possible and experts are speculating that people shouldn’t be fearful of losing their jobs. There is always much to be done at NASA, regardless of the current projects and goals of the organization.
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