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By Andrew Follett
The second man to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, visited the White House Friday to speak with Vice President Mike Pence about space policy.
Aldrin is a staunch advocate for human spaceflight and sending astronauts to Mars. His meeting with Pence is another sign the Trump administration may be planning to send astronauts into deep space.
“Fun to host a true American explorer, Buzz Aldrin, at the @WhiteHouse as we work to shape the space policy of our administration,” Pence tweeted Friday.
President Donald Trump reportedly asked NASA to return astronauts to the moon in 2018, potentially saving taxpayers $10 billion by speeding up the already planned mission’s timeline. During a speech to the Joint Session of Congress in late February, Trump said “American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.”
NASA already planned to send an unmanned Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with an Orion capsule to orbit the moon, but Trump wants to accelerate the program and add astronauts. A Trump adviser told The Washington Post that adding astronauts to the mission is intended to be “a clear signal” to the Chinese that the U.S. will retain its dominance in space.
Trump seemingly wants to return U.S. astronauts to the Moon, then send them onto Mars in space missions, which will require the giant SLS rocket currently being debated in Congress. The president vowed to “unlock the mysteries of space” in his inaugural address, lending credence to reports he discussed sending humans to Mars in a private meeting with billionaire Elon Musk.
Trump may free up money for his space plans by slashing the more than $2 billion NASA spends on its Earth Science Mission Directorate, which covers global warming science, and divert that money towards space exploration. Additional money for Mars exploration could be diverted from NASA’s troubled Asteroid Redirect Mission, which was heavily supported by Obama.
Obama tried for years to eliminate the SLS, but Congress rescued the rocket, though the former president did take money from it to fund global warming programs.