President Trump's ceremony Friday to bring back the National Space Council began to confuse people even before it took place.
It was, Trump would say, a big deal: an executive order to resurrect an advisory council that kick-started the first moon missions 60 years ago, went dormant in the 1990s, and could now lead astronauts into deep space — even Mars.
“At some point in the future, we’re going to look back and say how did we do it without space?” is how the president put it.
Yet the signing surprised many: The White House had not listed the ceremony on the president's calendar, no one from NASA headquarters came, and the only female astronaut in attendance was left off the thank-you list.
Not to mention the president's sometimes baffling remarks about the cosmos.
Praise for the (male) astronauts
Vice President Pence, who will chair the new space council, introduced the president and others gathered in the Roosevelt Room.
“Especially the three American astronauts,” he said, listing NASA's Alvin Drew, former astronaut David Wolf, and “the second man on the moon: the legendary Buzz Aldrin.”
“Welcome to the White House,” Pence said.
But he didn't mention the former astronaut standing about five feet away — Sandy Magnus.
Trump would also name the three male astronauts without mentioning Magnus — an omission quickly noticed in the wider space community.
Magnus didn't seem put out, though. The next morning she wrote she had attended the ceremony as executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and hadn't been wearing a NASA uniform like two of the men.
“Can you believe that space is going to do that?”
After Pence finished his introduction, it was on to the president — a known space aficionado who once phoned astronauts in orbit and asked them to hurry up and get to Mars.
“Our travels beyond the Earth propel scientific discoveries that improve our lives in countless ways here,” Trump said, listing new industry, technology and “space security” among the benefits.
“At some point in the future, we’re going to look back and say how did we do it without space?” Trump then said, causing Buzz Aldrin's eyebrows to shoot up.
Eyebrows across the Internet would do likewise as Trump proceeded through his speech, a mix of eloquence and questionable ad-libs.
“The human soul yearns for discovery,” Trump said, for example. “Our journey into space will not only make us stronger and more prosperous, but will unite us behind grand ambitions and bring us all closer together.
“Wouldn’t that be nice? Can you believe that space is going to do that?”
“Mike is very much into space.”
Vice President Pence, as mentioned, will chair the new council.
Some who learned this remembered that when Pence was a congressman, he once chaired a Republican study group that recommended canceling NASA's space exploration program — no moon or Mars trips — to save money.
But Pence's 2005 plan didn't go anywhere, and on Friday, he said he was “honored and frankly enthusiastic” about leading the National Space Council.
Trump assured those gathered that “Mike is very much into space.”
The advisory group will also include Cabinet secretaries, the head of NASA and other administrators — almost none of whom were at the ceremony.
“The only member of the Council other than Pence who was there was Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross,” Space Policy Online reported.
And as Sarah Kaplan noted for The Washington Post, Trump has not even named a NASA administrator, who will sit on the council. Likewise for the director of Office of Science and Technology Policy, which was entirely unstaffed as of Friday, according to CBS News.
Heavyweights of the “new space” industry such as Elon Musk of SpaceX and Jeffrey P. Bezos of Blue Origin (who also owns The Post) were nowhere to be seen, either, Kaplan wrote.
Bezos and Musk had been invited, Ars Technica reported, but couldn't make it on short notice.
Infinity, or something.
“This is going to launch a whole new chapter for our great country,” Trump said near the end of his speech.
Then he sat down at a table and opened the executive order.
“I know what this is,” he said. “Space!”
Beside him, Aldrin chimed in with a quote from the astronaut character Buzz Lightyear from the movie “Toy Story.”
“Infinity and beyond!” Aldrin said.
Then Trump added some lines of his own.
“This is infinity here,” he said. “It could be infinity. We don’t really don’t know. But it could be. It has to be something — but it could be infinity, right?”
Trump then signed the order and revived the National Space Council, leaving his final words on the subject a mystery.