A NASA astronaut on the moon. Photo: NASA JSC

President Trump signaled he may be souring on his administration's stated plan to return humans to the Moon by 2024 —4 years earlier than NASA had previously planned, in a tweet on Friday.

Why it matters: In order to meet the administration's aggressive timetable, the space agency needs focus and resources. Presidential tweets such as this one, in which Trump said the administration should not be playing up its moon mission, can cause confusion and sap morale for those working on this project.

  • Such statements could also make it more difficult for the space agency to muster support on Capitol Hill for the money it needs to accomplish the goal, which involves returning humans to the Moon as a step on the way to reaching Mars.

Quick take: While on its surface the tweet appears to withdraw support for the Moon program, known as Artemis, the truth is likely more complicated. NASA is planning to use its Artemis Moon mission as a jumping off point for getting to Mars. The agency's big push at the moment, however, is shoring up resources to get them back to the Moon.

  • Effectively, Trump appears to be giving NASA marketing advice, saying the agency should be talking more about Mars, and less about the Moon.

Background: The mission to the Moon has been spearheaded in the administration by Vice President Mike Pence, who also leads the National Space Council.

  • In May, NASA submitted a revised budget proposal asking for $1.6 billion in additional funding to make the Artemis mission to the moon happen by 2024. This request has been met with skepticism on Capitol Hill.
  • The mission represents the latest in NASA's moonshot whiplash that's plagued the agency since the Apollo program.

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