President Donald Trump launched a state of confusion with a tweet about his administration's plans to send astronauts to Mars.
"The directive I am signing today will refocus America's space program on human exploration and discovery", President Trump said at the time. In what would otherwise be considered a welcome break from attacks on Bette Midler, rants about the Mueller report, and tweets filled with racist agitprop, Trump expressed a seemingly left-field desire to explore new frontiers in the solar system. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said NASA's other missions won't be affected, but a top NASA official said in meetings this week that they might.
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The administration already had established a return to the moon as the focus of NASA's deep space exploration program in Space Policy Directive No. 1, signed by the president during a White House ceremony on December 11, 2017.
Trump's tweet is surprising for more than one reason: on one hand, for claiming the moon is a part of Mars; on another hand, for backtracking on his support of a return to the moon. He instead believes that NASA should focus on sending folks to Mars. Right now, @MarsCuriosity and @NASAInSight are on Mars and will soon be joined by the Mars 2020 rover and the Mars helicopter.
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Trump's tweet on NASA came shortly after a segment on Fox Business in which NASA's chief financial officer Jeff DeWitt discussed NASA's initiatives on the moon and their planned moon expedition in 2024 with host Neil Cavuto.
The policy of first going back to the moon grew from a unanimous recommendation by the new National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Pence, after its first meeting in October 2017.
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NASA's Apollo program landed the first men on the moon 50 years ago on July 20. However, it is likely that Trump's "Mars (of which the Moon is a part)" comment referred to NASA's talking point that going to the moon again would help efforts to later reach Mars.