What Donald Trump's presidency means for Nasa and space travel (it's bad, but not that bad)

Trump wants to invest in space exploration, but has no interest in low-Earth orbit activity.

Donald Trump pledges to be a 'president for every American' in victory speechIBTimes US

Donald Trump's presidential election is set to have profound consequences in areas both domestic and global. Following the announcement, many scientists reacted with major concerns. "Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had," Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society in Washington DC, told Nature. "The consequences are going to be very, very severe."

His comments on environmental policies do not appear to support the pledge to limit global warming as per the Paris Climate Agreement. At a conference in North Dakota in May, he said he might "cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop all payments of US tax dollars to UN global warming programmes".

So the planet is not one of his priorities. But what about space? Compared to other areas of science, Trump is not against Nasa and its activities. He is, however, interested in changing the agency's focus somewhat.

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At a rally in Florida in October, he said he wants to "substantially expand public private partnerships" in order to increase investment and funding for exploration and development. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Nasa is currently working with the likes of Elon Musk's SpaceX to transport cargo to the International Space Station.

Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States

Indeed, many within the industry have said private partnerships will be the way forward in future space missions. The European Space Agency is also seeking to expand its partners, for example.

Explaining his plans for Nasa, Trump said: "A cornerstone of my policy is we will substantially expand public private partnerships to maximise the amount of investment and funding that is available for space exploration and development. This means launching and operating major space assets... that employ thousands and spur innovation and fuel economic growth."

In an interview with SpaceNews, he added: "As a businessman, I am mindful of the many benefits, inventions and scientific breakthroughs that would not have been possible without the space programme, and that has to be thrown into the calculus, as well. Our civilian space programme should reflect the scientific priorities and aspirations of our society. Congress will be a full partner in shaping those priorities as the people's representatives."

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He added that intends to carry out a "comprehensive review" of Nasa's plans, saying he will examine spending and "make adjustments as necessary". So what will he keep and what will be cut?

North America as seen from spaceNasa

One thing he has been clear on is his plan to get rid of Nasa's Earth-monitoring activities. "I will free Nasa from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistics agency for low-Earth orbit activity – big deal. Instead, we will refocus its mission on space exploration. Under a Trump Administration, Florida and America will lead the way into the stars."

But what does freeing Nasa from low-Earth orbit activity mean? Essentially he will get rid of programmes relating to the monitoring planet – such as ocean chemistry, weather patterns and the melting ice sheets. As details on his plans are lacking, the ramifications are unclear - it would probably mean a reduction in climate change research.

Trump does, however, want to explore space. In an opinion piece, two of his senior advisers said: "Nasa should be focused primarily on deep space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies. Human exploration of our entire solar system by the end of this century should be Nasa's focus and goal. Developing the technologies to meet that goal would severely challenge our present knowledge base, but that should be a reason for exploration and science."

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"It makes little sense for numerous launch vehicles to be developed at taxpayer cost, all with essentially the same technology and payload capacity. Coordinated policy would end such duplication of effort and quickly determine where there are private sector solutions that do not necessarily require government investment."

View from the International Space StationNasa

In effect, it appears Trump wants to explore space while others pay for it. Nasa, it seems, will remain a key agency for the next president: "Nasa has been one of the most important agencies in the United States government for most of my lifetime. It should remain so," he said previously. "Nasa should focus on stretching the envelope of space exploration for we have so much to discover and to date we have only scratched the surface."

What is less clear is how Nasa will fit into the international space community. Robert Walker, Trump's space policy adviser, told SpaceNews they would like to begin discussions regarding the inclusion of more private and public partners on the ISS. How other agencies operating there feel about this is not yet known.

Another change will come in the administration of Nasa. Trump's advisors said space policy is "uncoordinated with federal government" at the moment. "A Trump administration would end the lack of proper coordination by reinstituting a national space policy council headed by the vice president," they said.

"The mission of this council would be to assure that each space sector is playing its proper role in advancing US interests. Key goals would be to create lower costs through greater efficiencies. As just one example, a Trump administration will insist that space products developed for one sector, but applicable to another, be fully shared."

How this will affect Nasa in the longer term, only time will tell.

Donald Trump will enter office on 20 January next year.

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