President Trump, like some of his predecessors, is branding NASA's recent wins as political, presidential accomplishments even though they are the result of efforts that span administrations.
Why it matters: Experts warnthat partisan politicking with NASA can lead to whiplash that leaves the agency scrambling to chase new goals whenever a new administration arrives in Washington.
- Moonshot whiplash is particularly troubling for NASA because the long-term nature of its work means its most high-profile programs stretch across multiple administrations.
- As space becomes more important to national security and more geopolitical powers establish a presence in orbit, achieving big goals will be more important than ever.
State of play: Trump has worked topresent himself as a strong supporter of NASA and the space industry at large, oftenframing his administration's space-related programs and policies in opposition to President Obama's space legacy.
- Trump last week tweeted that NASA was "closed and dead" before he became president, but the agency wasn't shut down before he got into office.
- He also claimed credit for SpaceX's successful crewed launch for the space agency, which began in earnest under a program funded by the Obama administration.
- Trump is using space as a campaign issue, most notably in an ad that was pulled because it violated NASA policies that restrict the use of astronaut images in advertisements.
What to watch: How Joe Biden proceeds withNASA's Artemis Moon program — Trump's flagship space policy — if he is elected in November remains to be seen.
- While a draft of the Democratic Party platform specifically calls out the importance of a human return to the Moon, Trump's politically motivated 2024 deadline for the crewed landing will almost certainly be changed if Biden is elected.
- The 2024 goal for Artemis was, in part, born from a desire to lower the "political risk" of a big program that would usually stretch across multiple administrations, risking cancelation, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has said.
- "I don't think the 2024 goal has a chance in hell of surviving. I mean, Congress doesn't want to pay for it now," John Logsdon, the founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, told Axios.
The backstory: Trump is far from the first president to refuse credit to his predecessors for the space advancements they put in motion.
- When Obama came into office, he cancelled the George W. Bush-era Constellation program back to the Moon in favor of sending astronauts to an asteroid instead.
- While there were technical and other challenges with Constellation, many experts agree the cancellation was at least in part politically motivated.
- And credit taking in space stretches further back. "At the time of Apollo 11, Richard Nixon never mentioned Kennedy," Logsdon said.
The bottom line: NASA's most high-profile human spaceflight wins — like the International Space Station and Commercial Crew Program — have been the result of consistent policies carrying over from one administration to others.
- If space accomplishments continue to be politicized, that consistency may soon be a thing of the past.