Where Will NASA Go in the Age of Trump?


Two weeks after a presidential election that could have vaulted him to the head of NASA, John Grunsfeld reached across his peanut curry at a small restaurant on the Far West Side of Manhattan, grabbed my notebook and sketched out a plan for a trip to Mars.

Dr. Grunsfeld, astronomer, astronaut, and former associate administrator of NASA, was in town to promote a National Geographic TV series about Martian exploration. On his shirt was a picture of a space shuttle and the Hubble Space Telescope.

We’ve been having a kind of Mars moment lately. Audiences filled theaters last year to watch Matt Damon as “The Martian.” Personalities as diverse as President Obama and Elon Musk have declared the Red Planet the next great destination.

In the days leading up the election, Dr. Grunsfeld said, NASA was thinking about a Mars mission to get ready for the transition. He himself was rumored to be on the short list to run the space agency should Hillary Clinton have won.

“NASA has never had a scientist as administrator; you and I would have had fun,” he said.

Now, nobody knows where NASA’s rockets are going on their biblical smoke pillars. Donald J. Trump’s one mention of the space program during his campaign was to tell a kid that potholes on Earth need fixing first.

But he also campaigned on the promise to “make America great again,” and hardly anything in recent history says that more clearly than the Apollo moon landings. That has some space buffs hoping that a Trump administration will put its weight behind another grand adventure in space, most likely a return for good to the moon.

At the same time, there is no evidence that Congress would give NASA any more money than it is already getting to carry out these adventures. Mr. Trump’s potholes, a military buildup and tax cuts beckon.

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