President Donald Trump's first 100 days in office have been busy, but the flurry of activity hasn't extended much into the final frontier.
The Trump administration has already moved aggressively in a number of areas, such as tax policy, health care, immigration and environmental regulation. But it hasn't done a lot regarding space science and exploration so far, said space policy expert John Logsdon.
"There haven't been any substantive actions of any significance, unless you count the budget," Logsdon, a professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C., told Space.com. You can see a full science report card on Trump's first 100 days here, courtesy of Space.com's sister site Live Science. [NASA and Trump: The 1st 100 Day (Video)]
The Trump administration's 2018 federal budget request, which the White House released in mid-March, allocates $19.1 billion to NASA — a 0.8 percent decrease from 2017 levels. That's quite a small drop, considering that the proposal cuts much deeper into the funding of many other federal agencies.
For example, the 2018 request — which must make its way through Congress before becoming law — slashes the National Institutes of Health's budget by 18 percent and that of both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of State by about 30 percent.
The budget request also eliminates funding for NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission, which aimed to pluck a boulder off a near-Earth asteroid and tow the rock to orbit around the moon using a robotic probe. Astronauts could then visit the space-rock chunk using the space agency's Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and Orion capsule, both of which are still under development.
In addition, the proposed 2018 budget cancels four NASA Earth-science missions. Such a shift away from Earth science was widely expected, given the comments about climate-change research made by Trump and some of his advisers during, and shortly after, the 2016 presidential campaign. (However, the budget request still gives $1.8 billion to NASA's Earth Science division, a cut of just $100 million compared with 2017 funding levels.)
The preliminary budget boosts NASA's planetary science funding by nearly 17 percent, to $1.9 billion, and continues to fund the development of the agency's life-hunting 2020 Mars rover mission and the Europa Clipper, a probe that will perform dozens of flybys of Jupiter's ocean-harboring moon Europa. And the proposal eliminates NASA's Office of Education, which has a budget of $115 million. [Photos: Europa, Mysterious Icy Moon of Jupiter]
Resurrecting the National Space Council
The Trump administration also announced last month that it aims to bring back the National Space Council (NSC), a policy-steering body that was last active during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. (The early-1990s NSC was a modified version of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, which was established in 1958 but abolished in 1973.) [Presidential Visions for NASA Throughout History]
Vice President Mike Pence will chair the NSC, administration officials said.
There aren't many other specific activities to parse for significance. For example, the career and statements of Trump's NASA administrator cannot be scoured for clues, because the White House has yet to fill this job. (Robert Lightfoot, the associate administrator under President Barack Obama's NASA chief, Charlie Bolden, is currently leading the agency on an interim basis.)
And we shouldn't read much into the fact that no nomination has been announced, Logsdon said.
"Reagan didn't announce his administrators until late April," Logsdon said. "Charlie Bolden wasn't nominated until May. So there's precedent for a late notification."
Interested in space?
Trump has discussed space science and exploration informally several times recently. During his weekly address on March 25, for example, the president recounted the tale of the Hubble Space Telescope's famous 1995 Deep Field image, which revealed thousands of galaxies in a tiny patch of sky that had looked empty.
During that same speech, he also voiced enthusiasm for Hubble's successor, the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in late 2018.
And on Monday (April 24), President Trump conducted a video call with the two NASA astronauts currently aboard the International Space Station, Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer, primarily to congratulate Whitson for breaking the American record for most total days spent off Earth.
Trump has also voiced support for sending astronauts to Mars, which NASA is working to do before the end of the 2030s, as instructed by Obama in 2010.
This goal would fit well with Trump's presumed priorities, as would sending humans back to the moon, said Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University
"I think he sees space as part of the American image, and as both a symbol and a practical representation of national power," Pace told Space.com. "And he'd like to see achievements happen on his watch."
We should soon start learning more about what those achievements might be. The federal budget request unveiled in March, for example, was a skeletal version known as a "skinny budget." A fleshed-out variant is expected next month.