The first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency have been no less rife with controversy and political infighting than his campaign. As the new administration settled into the White House, it unleashed a torrent of new policy plans and executive orders for the public to debate, producing a flood of stories competing for the public’s attention. But one area in particular seems to have flown under the radar, prompting no outrage and little parsing from Trump’s critics: the nation’s space policy.
This kind of policy is, of course, typically quite low on the priority list for a new president, especially when there are jobs to create, Cabinet positions to fill, health-care laws to repeal, tax codes to reform, allegations of Russian ties to avoid, and potholes to fix. Domestic and foreign affairs naturally get more attention than rocket launches, robotic missions to planets, and astronomical research, and Trump has yet to formally lay out his plan for the nation’s space goals. But according to several space-policy experts and historians, Trump has publicly discussed the country’s space program and exploration efforts more than other modern presidents have in their first stretches in office.
In the last few weeks, Trump has reminisced about the Apollo era, cheered a future Mars mission, and chatted with astronauts. He devoted a recent Saturday address to space telescopes, praising the achievements of Hubble and getting excited about the James Webb. He signed a NASA bill into law, a tiny legislative win in a long list of mostly unchecked boxes. On Monday, the beginning of a week that would see headlines about his tax-reform proposal, a trade dispute with Canada, his former adviser Michael Flynn’s involvement with Russian and Turkish governments, and a revealing interview in which he admitted he “never realized how big it was” of a job to be president, Trump made time to place a long-distance video call from the Oval Office to the American astronauts on the International Space Station.
Trump has made time for the space program, and, unlike in other policy areas, it hasn’t cost him. His remarks receive little attention relative to the rest of the news cycle, getting swept away in the current. Space exploration, it appears, has presented a rarity in the Trump administration so far: It’s not controversial.
“It seems to me to indicate that somebody in the Trump inner circle thinks space is a good issue for him,” said John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University who founded the school’s Space Policy Institute in 1987.
Space policy has given Trump an opportunity to deploy his signature sweeping praise with little risk of backlash. Missions take years to develop and execute, usually outlasting presidents and absolving them of any accountability. The space program has…