This week, President Donald Trump tweeted "NASA was Closed & Dead until I got it going again." This is false.
Trump seemed to take credit for a series of missions that have been in the works for years—long before his term began in 2016.
Experts, including two former astronauts, weighed in on the tweet.
Despite the devastating spread of COVID-19, it's been a huge year for NASA.
In May, the agency launched astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon Capsule, marking the first such journey on a commercial spacecraft and the return of crewed spaceflight to the U.S. after 9 years.
🛰 Space is a trip. Let's explore it together.
In July, NASA's long-awaited Perseverance rover blasted off for Mars, kicking off a decade-long international mission to retrieve rock samples from the Red Planet. Many of these accomplishments have been years, even decades, in the making. That's why so many people were confused when President Donald Trump tweeted this on Wednesday:
"NASA was Closed & Dead until I got it going again. Now it is the most vibrant place of its kind on the Planet...And we have Space Force to go along with it. We have accomplished more than any Administration in first 3 1/2 years. Sorry, but it all doesn’t happen with Sleepy Joe!"
NASA was Closed & Dead until I got it going again. Now it is the most vibrant place of its kind on the Planet...And we have Space Force to go along with it. We have accomplished more than any Administration in first 3 1/2 years. Sorry, but it all doesn’t happen with Sleepy Joe! https://t.co/PRebGIEJaq
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2020
The puzzling tweet contained a number of inaccuracies. Experts swiftly reacted to the tweet, and several jumped in to correct the president. Jeff Foust, a senior writer at SpaceNews, fact-checked the tweet:
- NASA was neither closed nor dead at the start of the current administration.
- Many recent NASA successes have their origins in prior administrations.
- The Starship test the president is retweeting has nothing to do with NASA; it’s a private effort by SpaceX. https://t.co/Z8wjHxkE1p
— Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) August 5, 2020
"This is a lie," astronaut Leland Melvin wrote in a Facebook post. "I worked at NASA for 24 years and not once during that time was it closed except for Congress not being capable of producing a budget and therefore I got furloughed along with many of my friends and colleagues but it never shutdown."
Phil Larson, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and formerly of SpaceX, tweeted: "This does a disservice to the nearly 17,000 dedicated women and men of NASA."
— Phil Larson (@philliplarson) August 5, 2020
Former astronaut Scott Kelly, who is running for Senate in Arizona, also criticized Trump's tweet, saying: "Great leaders take blame and pass along credit."
Great leaders take blame and pass along credit. https://t.co/AtF32MCtez
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) August 5, 2020
First, let's be clear: At no point has NASA ever been "Closed and Dead," as Trump says. NASA has operated continuously since 1958. Planning missions to send spacecraft out across the universe is a years-long mission in itself, and often takes place across multiple administrations.
For example, NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which is responsible for launching Behnken and Hurley in May, got its start in 2010 under Barack Obama's administration. Its predecessor, the Commercial Cargo Program, which kicked off NASA's partnership with SpaceX and other commercial spaceflight companies to deliver supplies to the ISS, started in 2004 under George W. Bush's administration.
Last year, NASA announced the Artemis mission, which, as Administrator Jim Bridenstine laid out, aims to return "the first woman and next man" to the surface of the moon by 2024. Artemis—that's Apollo's sister in Greek Mythology—will utilize several key vehicles during the mission, including the Orion capsule and Space Launch System. NASA designed and developed both of these vehicles during the Obama administration.
It is true that Trump has increased NASA's budget since he took office. In a post-splashdown briefing, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine implored congress to pass the president's federal budget, which would boost NASA's funding to a record $25.5 billion in 2021.
"Right now, we have the biggest budget NASA has ever had in nominal dollars," Bridenstine said. "If you look at real dollars, Apollo might have us beat by a little bit, but we're heading in the right direction."
The president is also responsible for establishing the United States Space Force, which officially began operations last December. The Space Force became the first new branch of the military in over 60 years and will be tasked with guarding American operations in outer space.
Curiously, Trump's tweet included a video of SpaceX's monumental hop of its Starship prototype, SN5. While SpaceX does indeed work with NASA and was recently awarded a contract to develop its Starship spacecraft for future missions to the moon as part of the agency's Human Landing System, it's a private company.
Starship is a private venture, and NASA hasn't been involved in its development. In fact, it was somewhat of a sticking point for Bridenstine, who, in reference to Commercial Crew, tweeted "It's time to deliver" shortly before Musk unveiled Starship.
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