Is Donald Trump Good for Space?

3 minute read
Jeffrey Kluger is an editor at large at TIME. He covers space, climate, and science. He is the author of 12 books, including Apollo 13, which served as the basis for the 1995 film, and was nominated for an Emmy Award for TIME's series A Year in Space.

Klingons don’t vote in American elections. Nor do Romulans or Venusians or any other interplanetary constituencies. That’s too bad, because like it or not, they’ve got skin (even if it’s blue and heavily feathered skin) in the game. At least they do now that Donald Trump has weighed in on the American space program.

During a Reddit Ask Me Anything session on July 27, he was asked specifically about space and responded with Trumpian succinctness: “Honestly I think NASA is wonderful! America has always led the world in space exploration.” It was not quite in keeping with the spirit of Reddit, which encourages fuller responses; at 89 characters (including spaces) the answer still had breathing room before it could even be a full Tweet. But give Trump this: they were 89 very good characters.

NASA has indeed always brought the wonderfulness, even if the comparative pan scrapings that are its current budget make the glorious missions of the old Apollo days impossible. What’s more, not counting the first few years of the space race, when the U.S. was eating the U.S.S.R.’s space dust, Trump is right that America has long led the world in space exploration. It would be hard for an intelligent alien who flew through the solar system not to notice that the overwhelming majority of the spaceships on or around all of the planets have some starry, stripey logo on the side.

But Trump hasn’t always shown space the love. In a New Hampshire town hall meeting last November, he said, “In the old days, [NASA] was great. Right now, we have bigger problems. We have to fix our potholes.” In a May, 2016 issue of Aerospace America, he responded to a question about NASA funding with, “Our first priority is to restore a strong economic base to this country. Then, we can have a discussion about spending.”

But the prospect of a powerful cosmic Trump ultimately turns on the same question as the prospect of a powerful terrestrial Trump: Does he have the ideas and the temperament to lead? For starters, let’s consider the wall.

If Trump wants to protect America’s southern border, he would surely want to devote the same kind of attention to Earth’s cosmic borders. Of course, a wall along the Earth-Mars boundary-line would be a teensy bit longer than the 1,989-mile one separating the U.S. and Mexico, since basically you need to seal the entire outer orbit. Here a little geometry helps: Earth is an average of 93 million miles from the sun so a simple 2πr ciphering gives you a 584 million mile wall. That’s a lot of Mexican pesos or Martian mars-os or whatever currency you’re expecting someone else to pony up.

What’s more, if you know Venus like Trump surely knows Venus, well, we’d better secure our inner orbit too—so that’s another 584 million miles. Of course, the truth is you could always go over or under either wall, but that’d be true of one along the Mexican border too, wouldn’t it?

Ultimately though, it might be best for earthlings to keep Donald Trump to ourselves. He may be a bright orange, poorly understood life form, but he’s our bright orange, poorly understood life form. And we do have our cosmic reputations to think about.


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