‘Making America great again’ — in space

President Donald Trump holds a plastic astronaut figurine during Monday’s signing ceremony. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

‘I think he sees space as a symbolic area of American leadership,’ says one longtime space policy leader of Trump’s directive to return to the moon.

President Donald Trump didn’t mention a price tag Monday for his lofty plan to send Americans to the moon and Mars, or say how he would pay for it — but advocates of a reinvigorated space program hailed it as a significant step nonetheless.

“I think he sees space as a symbolic area of American leadership,” said John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, who witnessed the 1969 launch of Apollo 11, which first took Americans to the moon. “To use a cliché, a way to make America great again.”

Unlike with the space race of the 1960s, the program Trump outlined Monday would not be entirely a NASA-run operation. Instead, the agency would enlist international partners and a new class of billionaire-run private space juggernauts to help pull it off.

The goal would be to return to the moon, then journey on to Mars — though Trump left it unclear whether the U.S. would rely primarily on humans or robots to build a lunar outpost for deep space exploration.

The presidential directive comes on the heels of a new White House space council headed by Vice President Mike Pence.

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