What planet was President Donald Trump raised on? Clearly the air was too thin or the lofty air he breathes these days is. During his call to the International Space Station (ISS) today, he managed to mispronounce the commander’s name (and she was who he was calling), to insult the space agencies in other countries, imply the Mars mission can be done during his term, and raise concerns about militarization of space. What happened to the idea that talking to astronauts in space is a slam-dunk PR photo op?
The ostensible purpose of the streamed call was congratulating station commander Peggy Whitson for breaking the American record for days in space. The Iowa-born biochemist has spent 534 days in space over the course of three missions. Accompanied by his daughter Ivanka and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Trump also called the ISS to chat with newly arrived American astronaut Jack Fisher.
Trump started the call to the truly International Space Station by saying, “Station, this is your President.” Normal protocol has interaction beginning with “Station this is [add name here.]” Except, he is not THEIR President. The ISS crew is global in nature and currently includes Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, Russian Oleg Novitskiy and a Russian of Greek descent Fyodor Yurchikin Grammatikopoulos.
Next, he commented about the great American equipment being used to communicate with the spaceship. This “America First” posturing probably spurred American astronaut Jack Fischer, who joined the crew on Sunday, April 23, to note, “The International Space Station is, by far, the best example of international cooperation and what we can do when we work together in the history of humanity.” Fischer pointed out that a Russian vehicle launched him from Kazakhstan. Then, shortly after arriving at the ISS mere hours later, he watched Pesquet drive a Canadian robotic arm to capture a spaceship from Virginia.
Trump started off his conversation with Whitson by pronouncing her name as what sounds like Whatson. While not as bad as John Travolta’s classic Adele Dazeem Oscar flub, the President had the name in front of him to read.
Discussing Space Future
Whitson and Trump discussed the planned Mars Mission, which survived Trump’s NASA budget cut. She noted, “As directed by your new NASA bill — we’re excited about the missions to Mars in the 2030s. And so we actually, physically, have hardware on the ground that’s being built for the SLS rocket that’s going to take us there. And, of course, the hardware being built now is going to be for the test flights that will eventually get us there.”
Probably thinking about his upcoming 100-day milestone, Trump added, “We want to try and do (get to Mars) during my first term, or at worst during my second term, so we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, OK?” Yes, it was probably a joke, but the current administration thought health insurance would be simple to do. Whitson gamely answered, “We’ll do our best.”
The call continued with talk about STEM education and encouraging women to get involved in STEM fields. Then, Trump threw in a chilling comments about the “tremendous military application in space” and rebuilding our military. This ignored the fact that an international accord prohibits the militarization of space. Maybe he will learn, like he did with NATO, that the International Space Station makes a case for global partnerships in exploring space and opportunities it offers.
By Dyanne Weiss
Whitehouse.gov: Remarks by President Trump in Video Call with NASA Astronauts Aboard the International Space Station
TIME: The Play-by-Play of President Trump’s Call to the International Space Station You Were Waiting for
Washington Post: Trump wants NASA to send humans to Mars pronto — by his second term ‘at worst’
Smithsonian: Astronaut Peggy Whitson Breaks NASA Record for Most Days in Space
Official White House Photo by Paul Williams – Public Domain