How Well Does Trump Understand NASA?

At the end of a meeting at the White House on Thursday, President Donald Trump, flanked by members of his Cabinet, gestured to the table in front of them.

“Before me are some rocket ships,” the president said. “You haven’t seen that for this country in a long time.”

On the table stood model replicas of three rocket-launch systems, two of which are in use today and one that is still in development. Trump launched into remarks full of praise for the spaceflight industry in the United States. He highlighted private spaceflight companies and the “rich guys” who run them.

“We’re letting them use the Kennedy Space Center for a fee and, you know, rich guys, they love rocket ships,” Trump said. “That’s good. That’s better than us paying for them. And I noticed the prices of the last one, that they said it cost $80 million. If the government did it, the same thing would have cost probably 40, 50 times that amount of money. I mean, literally, when I heard $80 million—you know, I’m so used to hearing different numbers with NASA.”

At a glance, Trump’s remarks at the Thursday meeting sounded like cheerful compliments from a president proud of his nation’s spaceflight activities. But when you consider the details of NASA’s long-term strategy, they’re quite baffling. Trump offered praise for both commercial and federal space efforts. But he seemed, for a moment, to favor SpaceX over NASA.

First, some context.When Trump says the government is letting commercial companies use Kennedy Space Center, he’s referring to rental agreements between these firms and the feds to use government-owned launch facilities. SpaceX rents launchpads at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for its missions. Blue Origin, the spaceflight company run by Jeff Bezos, plans to use a launchpad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to launch its New Glenn rocket. The recent rocket launch Trump referred to is the maiden flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which took off in February from the famed launchpad that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon. (SpaceX didn’t disclose how much the test flight cost, but says future launches will cost $90 million.)

The surprising part of Trump’s remarks is when he seems to suggest that commercial companies are better off paying for rocket launches because they’re doing it more cheaply than NASA.

This is not what …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Science

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