For much of the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump openly suggested he would erase many of President Barack Obama's policies. So when it comes to sending a manned mission to Mars, a focal point behind Obama’s space policy, what might we expect from the president-elect?
Based on his campaign comments, Trump appears to be on board with space exploration.
“I will free NASA from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistical agency for low-Earth-orbit activities,” Trump told a Florida rally in October. “We will instead refocus on space exploration. Under a Trump administration, Florida and America will lead the way into the stars.”
Some of Trump's staff have also echoed his comments about exploring space.
“Space is the frontier on which American aspiration can become humankind’s inspiration,” two Trump advisers, former congressman Robert Walker and University of California at Irvine economics professor Peter Navarro, wrote in a Spacenews.com op-ed in October. “The destiny of a free people lies in the stars. Donald Trump agrees.”
“Human exploration of our entire solar system by the end of this century should be NASA’s focus and goal,” Walker and Navarro added.
Those statements, experts have noted, won’t necessarily translate into actual policy in a Trump administration, but they, alongside pro-space comments from Trump himself, may mean that NASA will continue to get the green light to branch out and explore other planets. At the same time, the agency may be pulled back from studying Earth science, which plays a crucial role in monitoring the impacts of climate change and global temperature changes (which Trump has denied are associated with human behavior).
"The public Trump statement has endorsed space exploration … but it could go either way," John Logsdon, a space policy expert, told National Geographic following the election. Other goals may be added, he said.
"I think that there will be momentum building to reinsert missions to the moon as part of the human exploration plan, while maintaining Mars as the horizon goal."
For a Mars or moon landing, NASA funding may also be directed away from some common functions for the agency, including sending payloads to the International Space Station.