Trump Wants NASA To Send Astronauts To Mars And Robots To Jupiter

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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President-elect Donald Trump’s NASA plans to restart programs effectively canceled by his predecessor to land astronauts on Mars and send numerous probes to Jupiter’s moon Europa.

Trump’s new space policy focuses on eliminating bureaucratic waste and cutting back on environmental science research so the agency can pursue more ambitious goals like sending humans to Mars and robots to Europa — two of the best places to find alien life near Earth.

Trump’s NASA will likely be headed by Republican Rep. from Oklahoma Jim Bridenstine, who is one of Congress’s leading human space exploration advocates.

The new NASA will also likely help companies mine valuable minerals from the asteroid belt and fast-track plans to turn over the agency’s missions around low-Earth orbit to private companies like Boeing, Orbital ATK, Blue Origin and SpaceX.

“NASA should be focused primarily on deep-space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies,” Robert S. Walker and Peter Navarro, both senior advisers to the Trump campaign, wrote in an opinion piece published in SpaceNews. “Human exploration of our entire solar system by the end of this century should be NASA’s focus and goal.”

Industry analysts suspect that Trump will likely modestly increase NASA’s overall budget while slashing many programs supported by President Barack Obama. Additional money for Mars exploration could potentially be diverted from NASA’s troubled Asteroid Redirect Mission, which was also heavily supported by Obama.

Trump could slash the more than $2 billion NASA spends on its Earth Science Mission Directorate, which covers global warming science, like improved climate modeling and weather prediction. NASA’s other functions, such as astrophysics and space technology, are currently only getting a mere $781.5 and $826.7 million, respectively.

Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, pledged on Twitter in late October to head a reinstated National Space Council, which would dictate much of U.S. space policy and coordinate civil and military space agencies. The Council is traditionally headed by the sitting vice president. Obama promised to re-establish the organization before taking office, but never actually did it.

Experts have previously blamed the agency’s problems on Obama focusing NASA on global warming. The current president has repeatedly tried to slash space exploration funding and redirect it to Earth science programs, which include climate modeling initiatives designed to measure global warming. Obama increased NASA’s budget for environmental programs by 63 percent at the expense of its exploration budget.

Obama twice stymied the Constellation program, designed to take humans back to the moon, and eventually to Mars, by leaking information to the press and threatening to veto the projects. NASA astronauts now rely on the Russians to reach space, and NASA has been forced by the Obama administration to delay the Mars mission until 2030.

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