While his name was being dragged through the mire at the Democratic National Convention as a threat to national security, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, was participating in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” forum, misnamed because the questions were screened. One query asked Trump what role NASA should play in “making America great again.” He artfully dodged the question by repeating the almost universal sentiment that NASA is “wonderful” and that America has “always led the world in Space exploration.” He did not repeat his already expressed opinion that the Journey to Mars has to wait until all the potholes are filled.

A hypothetical Trump administration will have a number of decisions to make regarding the space agency fairly quickly. The GAO has come out with one of its periodic reports that worries about possible cost overruns for the Orion deep space craft and the heavy lift Space Launch System. NASA, just as ritualistically, responded that these concerns are already being addressed.

If Trump proposes to make any drastic changes in NASA’s space program, he will set up a clash with his old nemesis, Sen. Ted Cruz, the chair of the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA.

In a recent hearing, Cruz called for continuity for the space agency, unlike what happened when Obama became president and abruptly canceled the Constellation space exploration program. So, if Trump wants to entirely cancel the Journey to Mars, he is going to have to get through Cruz and a considerable part of the United States Congress.

To be sure, Trump could put his stamp on NASA, with the help of his chief policy adviser, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Much of the details of the Journey to Mars remains unfinished. A number of studies suggest that the Mars mission would profit by a return to the lunar surface to set up a water mining and rocket fuel refining operation. More commercial partnerships could be struck to stretch scarce dollars to further the goals of keeping America first in space exploration.

Of course, Trump will have to do something that he will be loath to do, work cooperative with Cruz, a man he hates, but whose alliance he needs to get anything at the space agency done.

He will have to set aside his personal desire for revenge and exercise the art of the deal.

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