Donald Trump is the last Republican candidate standing in the US presidential race after Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich bowed out this week. The rise of a candidate comedians like to mock for his orange-ish skin tone could also put humans on the fast track to the Red Planet.
Trump often sends mixed messages about NASA and its planned journey to Mars, and space exploration in general, but hear me out.
In response to questions from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Trump called NASA "one of the most important agencies in the United States government for most of my lifetime." He added, in the Q&A published this week, that, "It should remain so. NASA should focus on stretching the envelope of space exploration for we have so much to discover and to date we have only scratched the surface."
When asked specifically about the mission to Mars, it doesn't appear to be a big priority for Trump.
"If we are growing with all of our people employed and our military readiness back to acceptable levels, then we can take a look at the timeline for sending more people into space," he said.
In response to the same questions, Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders was similarly hesitant to commit more funds to get to Mars.
"In the short term, I would continue planning for human exploration of Mars," he said. "However, as I mentioned above, this will require an 'all-in' effort by the agency that my administration would evaluate in consultation with stakeholders to determine NASA prioritizes."
What Sanders "mentioned above" was essentially that he worries that increasing funding for NASA "just means cutting some other domestic discretionary program."
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has not gone on the record anywhere that I could find about the journey to Mars, but has proclaimed her general support for the space program.
"I really, really do support the space program," Clinton declared during a speech in New Hampshire in July. "I would like to see us continue explore space."
While Clinton is arguably the biggest supporter of NASA going forward, it's Trump who might help get Americans to Mars first because of his expressed support for the government partnering with private space companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX.
"I think there needs to be a growing partnership between the government and the private sector as we continue to explore space," Trump told AIAA. "There seems to be tremendous overlap of interests so it seems logical to go forward together."
Clinton, on the other hand, has said she supports such partnerships for applied science but that "only the government can support" discovery science, which would seem to include venturing to a different planet.
Sanders sees benefits to the private space industry, but told AIAA "it also raises serious issues, including safety and national security."
That leaves Trump the most bullish on commercial space exploration among the candidates, and commercial ventures like SpaceX are the most bullish on getting to Mars.
Whereas NASA hopes to get to Mars in the 2030s if it can keep its funding up, Musk is on a much faster timeline. Space X last month unveiled plans for an unmanned commercial mission to the Red Planet in a few years, and Musk has said he hopes to put humans on Mars in the 2020s.
I don't know if Elon Musk is a Trump fan. But if a Trump administration really did opt to give a boost to commercial Mars missions over financing the entire thing through federal dollars to NASA, it just might make Trump the first president of the Martian era.