Donald Trump, the mercurial real estate tycoon and media personality who, much to the surprise of one and all, has become the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president opened his mind just a little about his attitude toward space exploration, according to a Saturday story in Forbes. In an answer to a question put to him about sending humans to Mars, the current focus at NASA, Trump said, ““Honestly, I think it’s wonderful; I want to rebuild our infrastructure first, ok? I think it’s wonderful.” In other words, dreams of going to Mars must take a back seat to more Earthly concerns. It is not an answer many space exploration supporters want to hear.
Conor Cullinane, a NASA Space Technology Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School & MIT, asked Trump the question at a rally in Hampton, New Hampshire. The Forbes article did an analysis of Trump’s tone and body language and found little that was encouraging.
“But you’ve really got to watch the full video of the exchange to take in the subtext of Trump’s facial expressions and body language, which seems to say at best: ‘How cute, the prodigy kid over here wants to go to Mars;’ or at worst: ‘Look at the egghead flyboy down there with his Mars plans.’”
It is not as if the Donald is unfamiliar with space policy. Parabolic Arc, a space-related blog, noted that Trump is involved in an effort to build a spaceport in Scotland. Trump’s company will provide the hotel where the well-heeled and adventurous will stay when they are waiting for their turn to fly on board a rocket ship to take a suborbital jaunt.
A throwaway answer to one of many questions at a campaign event is not likely an indication of what the space program would be in a hypothetical Trump Administration. Would President Trump really shut down the race to Mars until every one of America’s roads and bridges are fixed, a task of many years and hundreds of billions of dollars? Would he, savvy businessman that he is, look to the commercial possibilities inherent in the moon and the asteroids?
Besides, Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is a sure segue into an enhanced space program, including commercial interests, to turn words into deeds. In the meantime he could study the issue with a little more depth, delving into the pros and cons of going to Mars, about why returning to the moon would be of use, and about the wealth that could be had from asteroid mining. Then he could muse about the “art of the deal” for making it happen in a political context.