On Friday, President Trump tweeted that the Moon was part of Mars, even as he claimed the mantle of supporting science. It was yet another perfect storm of stupidity, and his critics were quick to mock him.
They were wrong to do so, and there is a lesson to be learned.
Make no mistake: his actual words, as tweeted, were blatantly erroneous:
The problem here is that, while his defenders are quick to explain away every asinine statement made by the President… and there are many… in this instance he was speaking along the same lines that Mars program supporters have used for decades.
It is generally accepted among Mars exploration advocates that a moon base will need to be constructed first, from which any long-term Mars operations will be launched.
In his typically artless way Trump was echoing the views of many people who are more experienced and knowledgeable than he. Unfortunately, rather than wonder what he meant by it, the derision immediately surfaced. In so doing, his detractors alienated many space exploration advocates.
This was an unforced error. Thankfully, it’s not a big one – there are comparatively few people who are avid fans of Mars exploration.
The explanations the Trump promoters use to explain away his inanities need to be fairly evaluated rather than dismissed out of hand. Most of the attempts to justify Trump’s comments are ridiculous on their face, but not all of them are. If Trump’s opponents wish to avoid driving some independents into a misguided feeling of solidarity with the President, they need to fairly assess what is reasonable.
There is also no need to feel obliged to attack every statement. “We need to spend billions on a Space Force” and “We need to guard against Space Pirates” are unreasonable, and mocking them will garner support. “We need a moon base before we attempt to put men on Mars” is reasonable, and it is also a rational interpretation of what Trump likely meant. Trump and his supporters make unjustifiable and outlandish statements every day, as well as many obvious lies. There are always plenty of stances, statements and actions to deride. We should be willing to bypass those which might be defensible in favor of pressing on the many which are not.