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Trump tweet blasts NASA plans for moon return, despite his own policy

The president's tweet contradicts his administration's Space Policy Directive 1, which is all about getting back to the moon.

Buzz Aldrin on the moon
Buzz Aldrin visited the moon.

The moon is old hat to President Donald Trump. 

Trump hit up Twitter on Friday to poo-poo NASA's ambitious plans to return American astronauts to the moon by 2024. Those plans stem directly from a Trump administration Space Policy Directive 1 the president signed in late 2017.

"For all of the money we are spending, NASA should not be talking about going to the moon," Trump wrote, saying we already "did that 50 years ago." He suggested NASA should instead focus on "the much bigger things," including Mars, defense and science.

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Trump wrote that the moon is a part of Mars, which may reference NASA's view of the moon as a jumping-off point for deeper human space exploration, but that's just speculation. This interpretation seems at odds with what comes across as a downplaying of NASA's moon mission.

"It is the stated policy of this administration and the United States of America to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years," Vice President Mike Pence declared in March as the administration shortened the timeline for the moon return, directing NASA to shoot for 2024.

Trump tweeted his support for NASA in May, saying, "Under my administration, we are restoring NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars." This came at a time when the White House updated its budget to include an additional $1.6 billion to support the agency's moon focus. That funding didn't come through.

It's unclear whether Trump's anti-moon missive is just a passing thought, or if it might spark a change in his administration's policy to push for a NASA moon return more than 50 years after Apollo 11 landed the first humans on the satellite's surface.

When asked about the tweet, a NASA media relations specialist pointed CNET to a response tweet by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. Bridenstine seems to be interpreting Trump's message as a push to focus on the moon as a stepping stone for reaching Mars.

It would be challenging for NASA to talk about humans on Mars without first talking about the moon. The agency released a soaring trailer last month for its moon mission and is working on building a lunar gateway and further exploring the moon's surface through both robotic and human efforts.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Originally published June 7, 12:06 p.m. PT.