- President Donald Trump held a televised cabinet meeting on Thursday morning.
- During the meeting, Trump showed off models of rockets and spaceships, which were designed by NASA, United Launch Alliance, and SpaceX.
- Trump described the recent launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket as “amazing” and “beautiful.”
During a White House cabinet meeting on Thursday, President Donald Trump took a moment to put rockets on the table – literally.
“Before me are some rocket ships. You haven’t seen that in this country in a long time,” Trump said, likely referring to the fact that NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz rockets to fly astronauts to the International Space Station since the retirement of its space shuttle in 2011 (and at ever-increasing costs).
“Many of the jobs we’re doing are privately financed,” Trump added. “You know, rich guys – they love rocket ships. And that’s good. That’s better than us paying for it.”
On the table were three large models of competing rockets that may soon carry astronauts to space – perhaps to the moon or Mars – and a small model of the space station.
All the rockets Trump showed off
At the far right (from this perspective) was an older model of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Newer, up-to-date models feature grid fins on the rocket’s boosters, which help the boosters land so they can get reused for another launch.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said the company is shifting resources away from its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets to develop a vehicle to replace all of its launchers. The forthcoming Big Falcon Rocket could tower 348 feet and carry a huge reusable, refuelable spaceship that could go anywhere in the solar system.
The second rocket from the right is the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, with a CST-100 Starliner space capsule (made by Boeing) on top.
A powerful version of the Atlas V will soon be used to launch astronauts to the space station, and it can lift about half as much mass into orbit as ULA’s biggest rocket: The Delta IV Heavy. However, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket just eclipsed ULA’s Delta IV Heavy two-fold in terms of the payload it can lift. Each Delta Heavy launch also costs about four times as much as a Falcon Heavy. To compete with SpaceX, ULA is working on a sub-$100-million launcher with reusable parts, called Vulcan.
At far left was the first iteration of NASA’s gigantic Space Launch System.
Testing for that rocket is moving along, and many years from now, it may tower above and outdo all other rockets ever built – at least in terms of power and lift capability. But NASA has already spent about $23 billion on the project, and will need more than $210 billion in funding to reach Mars with the launcher, according to the Office of Inspector General. And that’s not even to set foot on the planet’s surface – just orbit it. (Though the first Mars astronauts might explore the moon Phobos.)
Trump said the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket was ‘amazing’
- Thom Baur/Reuters
After showing off the models, Trump took a moment to remark on what he thought of Falcon Heavy’s launch on February 6.
That rocket is now most powerful in the world today, and two of its 16-story reusable boosters successfully flew back to Earth and landed smoothly on the ground.
“To me that was more amazing than watching the rocket go up,” Trump said. “I’ve never seen that before. […] Without wings, without anything, they landed so beautifully.”
Trump said the Falcon Heavy launch cost $80 million, though that’s not quite correct. He was likely referring to the $90 million price that SpaceX plans to charge customers for a launch of the rocket. Musk said Falcon Heavy’s development cost totaled more than $500 million.
“We’re really at the forefront, and we’re doing it in a very private manner. At the same time, NASA is very much involved in doing their own projects,” Trump said. “We’ll be sending something very beautiful to Mars in the very near future.”
Trump may have been referring to NASA’s Mars InSight lander, which is slated to land on the red planet in November. The earliest SpaceX may attempt to reach Mars would be in 2022, with NASA hoping to send people to the red planet in the 2030s.
A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the name of the second rocket. It is an Atlas V, not a Delta IV Heavy. Also, Falcon Heavy launched on Feb. 6, 2018 – not February 2. We regret the errors.