In a meeting of Trump’s Cabinet on Thursday 8 March, the President took the opportunity to give some of his comments on the state of the rocket industry. Presumably by accident, he actually made some valid comments amongst some weird ones.
“Before me there are some rocket ships, you haven’t seen that for this country for a long time,” said Trump, pointing to three model rockets in front of him. Of course, the US launches plenty of rockets – but he’s probably referring here to the fact that crewed American launches are scheduled to start again in the next year or so for the first time since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011.
“And rich guys love rocket ships,” he continued. True, SpaceX’ Elon Musk and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos are both pretty rich. And they like rockets.
“And that’s good. Better than us paying for it. And the price of the last one, $80 million, if the government did it, it probably would have cost 40, 50 times that amount. When I heard $80 million and I’m used to hearing different numbers with NASA.”
This is actually not that wide of the mark. Trump’s probably referring to the Falcon Heavy here, which actually has a list price of $90 million. Still, that’s more than 30 times cheaper than NASA’s comparable Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at about $3 billion, due to launch next decade.
Ars Technica said these comments caught some senior NASA leaders “off guard,” although Trump did soften the blow by adding: “NASA is making tremendous strides.”
A replay of the meeting. He starts talking about rockets around the 13-minute mark
Then he got back to praising private companies in space – something that has really been made possible thanks to the Obama administration, who put a lot of investment into commercial space partnerships, although maybe don't tell Trump that.
“We are at the forefront,” he said. “Nobody is doing what we are doing. Elon with the rocket boosters, that was more amazing than watching the rocket go up. Nobody had seen that before, they come back with the boosters without wings, they landed beautifully.”
He’s again talking about the Falcon Heavy launch here. Of course, we have seen SpaceX boosters landing before, but we hadn’t seen a double landing as on this launch.
Trump also mentioned NASA would be “sending something very beautiful to Mars in the near future,” which might be a reference to the upcoming Insight mission, a stationary lander that will launch on May 5, 2018.
It would be helpful if we didn’t have to sift through Trump’s word salad to find the hidden meaning. But, well, it seems he’s fond of private companies. And likes NASA? Or not. Who knows.
Just a reminder, it’s been 413 days since NASA had someone in charge.