Saturday 20 January 2018

Fly to Mars in my first term, says Trump to astronauts

Spacewoman Peggy Whitson. Photo: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters
Spacewoman Peggy Whitson. Photo: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

Helena Horton

Donald Trump has challenged Nasa astronauts to get to Mars within his first term in a phone call with spacewoman Peggy Whitson.

He added that, at worst, they should reach the planet during his second term, long before the 2030s he signed up for in a government bill.

The American president congratulated Ms Whitson for setting a new US space record yesterday in a telephone call to space, broadcast live on Nasa television.

The 57-year-old astronaut has recorded 534 days in orbit, beating Nasa's previous record-holder Jeff Williams, but remains far short of the world mark, which belongs to Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka with 879 days.

"This is a very special day in the glorious history of American space flight," Mr Trump said from the Oval Office at the White House, flanked by daughter Ivanka and Nasa astronaut Kate Rubins. "That's an incredible record to break".

Mr Trump asked Ms Whitson and her Nasa astronaut colleague Jack Fischer: "What are we learning from being in space?" After Ms Whitson described technology to support long-duration manned trips to space - including a system that converts urine to drinking water for astronauts.

Ms Whitson said: "Water is such a precious resource up here that we also are cleaning up our urine and making it drink-able. And it's really not as bad as it sounds."

Mr Trump replied with a grimace: "That's good, I'm glad to hear that. Better you than me."

The US president, who signed a bill directing Nasa to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s, then asked Ms Whitson: "What do you see as a timing for actually sending humans to Mars?"

Politely, she replied: "Well, I think as your bill directed, it will be approximately in the 2030s".

Mr Trump said, eliciting laughter from the astronauts: "We want to try to do it during my first term or at worst during my second term, so we will have to speed that up a little bit, OK?" (© Daily Telegraph London)

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