It may not shock you to learn that our president doesn’t understand space travel. According to Team of Vipers, the new book by former White House communications official Cliff Sims, Trump interrupted a call to the International Space Station to demand that NASA speed up their timeline for sending a manned mission to Mars by over a decade.
It was April 2017, and Trump was calling the ISS for a televised conversation with Peggy Whitson, who had just broken the record to become the American who has spent the longest time in space.
Trump sat at his desk in the Oval Office, flanked by his daughter and adviser, Ivanka, and astronaut Kate Rubins, and read prepared remarks off a sheet of paper while other members of his staff — Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, and Betsy DeVos — looked on. Suspended aboard the Space Station, Whitson and Colonel Jack Fischer fielded his questions, including, “What are we learning by being in space?”
Things, as they tend to do in the Trump administration, quickly went off the rails.
“Tell me, Mars—what do you see a timing for actually sending humans?” Trump asked Whitson. (He had actually signed a bill outlining the timetable just the month before.)
“Well, I think as your bill directed, it would be in the 2030s,” Whitson responded. “Unfortunately spaceflight takes a lot of time and money, so getting there will take some international cooperation.”
“Well, I think we want to do it in my first term or at worst in my second term,” Trump said. “So I think we’ll have to speed that up a little bit.”
Sure, let’s just invent a light-speed aircraft!
This absurd conversation was actually televised at the time, and mentioned in the New York Times coverage of the conversation, which speculated that he had made the suggestion “perhaps jokingly.”
But according to Sims new book, Trump was dead serious.
In the lead up to the interview, Sims says, the situation was tense. Due to the position of the ISS, there was only a 20 minute period in which the interview could be accomplished, so Trump had to be right on time.
Then, according to Sims, Trump went off on a tangent about Mars, and demanded that NASA send a manned mission there before the end of his term.
Then, something happened. Trump “suddenly appeared distracted, distant,” wrote Sims. “I could sense the gears inside of his head starting to turn. I was losing him.” As the clock ticked down, Trump “suddenly turned toward the NASA administrator.” He asked: “What’s our plan for Mars?”
When the NASA administrator explained that it would take until the 2030s to send a manned mission, Trump didn’t accept it.
“Trump bristled,” Sims writes. The president allegedly asked, “But is there any way we could do it by the end of my first term?”
President Deals then tried to negotiate.
Trump did not seem worried about the time. Sims wrote that he leaned in toward Lightfoot and made him an offer. “But what if I gave you all the money you could ever need to do it?” Trump asked. “What if we sent NASA’s budget through the roof, but focused entirely on that instead of whatever else you’re doing now. Could it work then?”
Lightfoot told him he was sorry, but he didn’t think it was possible. This left Trump “visibly disappointed,” Sims wrote. “But I tried to refocus him on the task at hand. We were now about 90 seconds from going live.”
As if this could get any more absurd, with only seconds to spare before the absolute deadline to connect with the ISS, Trump stopped to look in a bathroom mirror.
“Space Station, this is your President,” Trump said to his own reflection, according to Sims.