Last night, Trump released his second term agenda, incredibly specific guidelines for xenophobic totalitarian rule sprinkled with pipe dreams. Among the former is the usual parade of fascistic talking points: “teach American exceptionalism,” prosecute the “violent extremist” group antifa, deport “non-citizen gang members,” hold China “accountable” for covid-19, eliminate sanctuary cities. The latter variety is contrasted with such gems as “return to normal in 2021” and establish a “permanent” “manned presence” on the moon.
A base. On the moon. A moonbase, if you will.
Colonising the moon sounds like bullshit hype for American exceptionalism, destined to fade behind yet-unimagined self-made crises or Trump’s own petty gripes on Twitter. But against all odds and reason, he somehow bloated the military with a Space Force, in spite of the total absence of warfare in space currently. And the Republican Party, in its latest platform resolution, now forbids inter-party criticism of the Trump agenda. So tacitly, Republicans are pro-moonbase.
What exactly do they want with it, and how much time and money are they proposing to flush down the toilet? In the absence of more information, anyone claiming to have an educated guess is probably selling you something. What we do know is that Trump seems obsessed with man’s final frontier. As has been documented, he wants 1) space mines, 2) Elon Musk (as a pal), 3) a sequel to the Space Race, and 4) a militarised Star Fleet. With the exception of Elon Musk himself and professional toady Mike Pence, most people don’t love this plan or find it confusing.
Back in 2015, Trump promised a 10-year-old child — and the American public by extension — that we’d one day get back to space, but that “right now, we have bigger problems.” Setting aside that reaching the moon would almost certainly necessitate travel to space, Trump has been remarkably consistent about the lunar habitation plan, which he codified in his first months in office. In March 2019, the White House announced that Trump was “boldly” returning Americans to the moon toward the goal of a “sustainable human presence” as a “foundation” for a Mars mission. In a is 2019 statement to reporters he said “[w]e’re stopping at the moon.”
Within his first year, he signed an executive order reestablishing the National Space Council to develop space plans and signed a directive to partner with corporations in order to revive moon landings “for long-term exploration and use.” For years, Trump has talked a big game about boots on the moon by 2024, a deadline which some former NASA officials have said is basically impossible.
Meanwhile, Congress has repeatedly, quietly undermined Trump’s proposed cuts to space-related research in its budgets and preserved funding for research tools such as powerful telescopes that might help scientists understand dark energy and discover exoplanets, which might actually be useful.
A year into office, Trump dreamed up Space Force as a the sixth branch of the armed forces, for space. He floated the idea in a speech in March 2018, saying “We may even have a space force — develop another one — space force. We have the Air Force, we’ll have the space force. We have the Army, the Navy.” In October 2018, Mike Pence reportedly joked that “He only asks me about the Space Force every week.”
Against all odds, Republican scepticism, a fruitless executive order demanding Space Force, and refusal from the House Appropriations committee to grant him his space funding, Trump finally got Space Force at the end of 2019. He made clear that his mind was on space war; he said at the signing of the Space Force defence spending bill that space is “the world’s newest war-fighting domain.” Beside the fact that space is explicitly not part of “the world,” it’s unclear what, exactly, Space Force is supposed to do, other than rebrand the preexisting Air Force Space Command with a rip-off of the Starfleet logo.
Critics have pointed out that Space Force is a terrible idea because it
could actively spur an arms race. Wired also warned way back in 2017, that a “dangerous arms race” in space might end up cutting off our internet, GPS, and communications channels and litter our orbit with space junk, generating shrapnel that could cause a “chain reaction of crashing satellites.”
Now that Trump had gotten Space Force, he moved on to moon mining. In April 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, he signed an executive order affirming that the United States does not adhere to the Moon Treaty — international law stipulating that the moon cannot be parceled off as private property — and asserted that Americans should have the right to mine the moon and “other celestial bodies” for resources such as water and minerals. While one space journalist has noted that it’s not a bad idea to set up an “intergalactic petrol station,” for travellers on their way to further reaches of space, it also implies that if America makes the wondrous discovery of water and possibly life in outer space first, we get to strip-mine the place and subjugate our discoveries.
A moonbase is an incredibly specific obsession — for anyone, let alone a president with a limited understanding of, well, most things. Somehow Trump, a man who otherwise struggles to string a full sentence together, has managed to entertain this pet project for years as he prepares Americans to fight a futuristic space battle over a non-existent gas station on a rock 383,024 km away. Unfortunately, his earthly agenda of fast-tracking democracy towards a violent dictatorship has proven to be less funny, and far more easily attainable.