Trump touts Space Force, moon and Mars plans in State of the Union address
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Space exploration got a couple of shout-outs in President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night (Feb. 4).

During the nearly 80-minute speech, Trump touted the recent establishment of the Space Force — the first new U.S. military branch to be stood up since the Air Force in 1947 — as one of his administration’s key accomplishments thus far. 

And one of the president’s special guests for the State of the Union, which is held every year in the House of Representatives chamber of the U.S. Capitol building, was a kid with Space Force dreams.

Related: Presidential Visions for Space: From Ike to Trump

President Donald Trump speaks during his State of the Union address on Feb. 4, 2020.

President Donald Trump speaks during his State of the Union address on Feb. 4, 2020. (Image credit: WhiteHouse.gov)

“In the gallery tonight, we have a young gentleman,” Trump said. “And what he wants so badly — 13 years old — Iain Lanphier, he is an eighth-grader from Arizona. Iain, please stand up. Iain has always dreamed of going to space. He was the first in his class and among the youngest at an aviation academy. He aspires to go to the Air Force Academy, and then he has his eye on the Space Force. As Iain says, ‘Most people look up at space; I want to look down on the world.'”

President Trump also referenced NASA’s Artemis program of crewed lunar exploration. Artemis aims to put astronauts on the surface of the moon by 2024 and use Earth’s nearest neighbor as a training ground for crewed missions to Mars in the 2030s. 

Related: In photos: President Donald Trump and NASA

NASA originally targeted 2028 for the human lunar landing, which will be the first since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, but Vice President Mike Pence announced an accelerated timeline in March of last year. (Last month, the House Science Committee introduced an appropriations bill that would re-target 2028 for the lunar landing. But that bill has a long way to go before being enacted as law.)

“In reaffirming our heritage as a free nation, we must remember that America has always been a frontier nation. Now we must embrace the next frontier: America’s manifest destiny in the stars,” Trump said during last night’s speech. “I am asking Congress to fully fund the Artemis program to ensure that the next man and first woman on the moon will be American astronauts, using this as a launching pad to ensure that America is the first nation to plant its flag on Mars.”

We’ll soon see what kind of funding he has in mind; the White House is expected to unveil its 2021 federal budget request on Monday (Feb. 10). 

President Trump has made a fair bit of space news during his first three years in office. There’s the Space Force, of course, and Space Policy Directive-1, which officially set the nation’s human spaceflight program on its moon-to-Mars path. (President Barack Obama had directed NASA to get people to Mars, but to use an asteroid as a stepping stone.)

Trump has also signed two other space policy directives, which deal with space traffic management and the regulation of commercial activities in space, respectively. And in 2017, Trump resurrected the National Space Council (NSC), which helps steer American space policy.

Pence chairs the NSC, which had last been active in the early 1990s, during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.

Mike Wall’s book about the search for alien life, “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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