How Trump undermined own achievement by rejecting virtual debate with Biden: A conversation with NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine on Artemis program – Perspectives by Simon Ateba

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Exactly seven days ago today, on October 8, 2020, President Donald Trump told Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo that he will not participate in a ‘virtual debate’ with former vice president Joe Biden that was slated for today, October 15.

The president said he wasn’t going to “sit at a computer” to debate, calling it “ridiculous.”

“I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” Trump went on. “I’m not going to waste my time at a virtual debate.”

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“They’re trying to protect Biden,” Trump said. “Everybody is.”

“The commission changed the debate style and that’s not acceptable to us,” Trump said on Fox News “Mornings with Maria.” “I beat him in the first debate, I beat him easily.”

The president added that he expected to “beat him in the second debate also.”

Trump spoke following an announcement by the Commission on Presidential Debates that the October 15 presidential debate would be ‘virtual’ to keep everyone safe from the novel coronavirus, after President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and dozens of other people linked to the White House tested positive for the deadly virus that has killed more than 215,000 Americans and over one million people globally.

The commission said instead of debating in person, the two candidates would have to participate in the town hall debate “from separate remote locations.”

But President Trump said that was unacceptable to him.

By rejecting a virtual debate and describing it as “ridiculous”, President Trump was actually undermining himself or what may turn out to be, many years from now, one of the greatest achievements of his presidency.

He was also undermining Twitter, one of the most powerful tools that has allowed him to connect virtually with hundreds of millions of Americans and people around the world.

His blunder became even clearer this week after the State Department Foreign Press Center in Washington DC organized a conversation between journalists and Jim Bridenstine, who was nominated by President Donald Trump himself, confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and sworn in as NASA’s 13th administrator on April 23rd, 2018, and  Mike Gold, who currently serves as the acting associate administrator for NASA’s Office of International and Interagency Relations. 

The Washington Foreign Press Center organized that conversation as eight nations were signing NASA’s Artemis Accords that would guide cooperative exploration of the moon.

The signing of the Artemis Accords took place during the 71st International Astronautical Congress this week.

The founding member nations of the Artemis Accords, released by NASA in May to establish a framework of principles for safely and responsibly planning for humanity’s return to the moon, include the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and Luxembourg.

At the signing of the Accords, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, said in a statement that “Artemis will be the broadest and most diverse international human space exploration program in history, and the Artemis Accords are the vehicle that will establish this singular global coalition.”

“with today’s signing, we are uniting with our partners to explore the Moon and are establishing vital principles that will create a safe, peaceful, and prosperous future in space for all of humanity to enjoy,” Bridenstine added.

“Fundamentally, the Artemis Accords will help to avoid conflict in space and on Earth by strengthening mutual understanding and reducing misperceptions. Transparency, public registration, deconflicting operation –peace,” added another statement by NASA acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations, Mike Gold.

The Artemis Accords follow the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which is still regarded as the basis for international space law. The treaty and Artemis Accords prevent any country from claiming ownership of the outer space and establish free, peaceful and responsible exploration of the outer space. They also clearly state that no weapons should be placed in orbit, and rely on peaceful intent, transparency, interoperability and sharing of scientific data.

The guiding principles apply to international and commercial partnerships that will operate in space between the Earth and the Moon. This is known as cislunar space.

The $28 billion Artemis program plans to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024, and relies on partnerships to create a sustainable and lasting presence of humans on and around the moon.

And the reason NASA is doing this is to use Artemis to land the first people on Mars, Bridenstine told us at the State Department virtual event early this week.

He said he hoped that more countries would join the Artemis Accords going forward, including countries in Africa.

The nations that may not in the nearest future may not, at least for now, include Russia, as the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, DMitry Rogozin, has indicated that his country will not sign the accords because they are “too US-centric.”

The United States and Russia, however, remain partners on the International Space Station. Early Wednesday, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov launched for a six-month stay on the space station from Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan.

Other NASA’s international partners for Artemis include the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency.

The new ambitious project can be characterized as President Donald Trump’s baby.

“As far as the President goes, this is President Trump’s program. He initiated what we call Space Policy Directive 1, which directed NASA to go to the Moon sustainably with commercial and international partners, and to take all of the knowledge that we get from the exploration of the Moon on to Mars.  And so the President briefed us on what to do in this particular case.  And of course, he is an amazing advocate for the American space program, and we see that now manifested in our budgets that have bipartisan support,” Bridenstine told us.  

The tall project, which involves many nations, may redefine human understanding of science and technology, including the way we communicate, and, yes, the way we debate, including the way we “debate virtually.”

“Look at how we’re communicating right now. Everything is over the horizon.  We’re using terrestrial wireless networks that need a timing signal from GPS.  We’re using cameras in our computers that were built for a Mars mission back in the early 2000s. And of course, we’re communicating over the horizon with satellites that connect all of us around the globe. All of these technologies are born from space exploration, and this is just the beginning. There is so much more,” Bridenstine told us.

He emphasized that going to live in another world was not just for fun as it would bring great scientific value to us right here on earth.

“We’re going to learn how to live and work on another world, this being the Moon, for long periods of time. And we’re going to take all of that knowledge on to Mars.  So when we go to the Moon sustainably to stay, we call that program Artemis.

“Certainly, we want to learn how to live and work on another world, but when we think about the scientific value – we’ve had subatomic charge particles coming from the Sun for billions of years.  They are today on the Moon right where they were billions of years ago because the Moon doesn’t have an active geology or an active hydrosphere. So anything that impacted the Moon billions of years ago is right today where it was billions of years ago.  So it’s a repository of data and information of the early Sun and data and information of the early solar system.   

“So it really is about learning about our own solar system, about our own Sun, and even beyond that from the far side of the Moon, we can do astrophysics in a way that you can’t do anywhere else in the inner solar system because it’s so quiet on the far side of the Moon from an electromagnetic spectrum perspective.   

“So we believe that there’s a lot of astrophysics, deep space science.  We want to learn what the early universe was like.  We can do that from the far side of the Moon.  We want to see the first light in the universe after the Big Bang.  We even want to see the dark ages after the Big Bang and before first light occurred.  We want to be able to see that period of time.  And the Moon represents those opportunities that are exceptionally unique, and we cannot do that kind of science here on Earth because of the limitations,” he said.

In other words, one of the most expensive and ambitious programs of the Donald Trump administration would change the way we communicate today, and debate today. The president himself is backing it, encouraging Congress to fund it, and seems to be proud of it.

However, by rejecting to debate Joe Biden virtually, and by describing that way of communicating as “ridiculous”, President Trump shot himself in the leg, and undermined what may remain as his legacy, even if he loses the presidential election in just 19 days.

The President could have used the virtual debate in his favor by acknowledging how far we have come, how much progress we have made, and by explaining why is backing more investments for space exploration as this may dramatically transform the way we communicate, the way we live and run our planet.


Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Based in Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, Simon leads a brilliant team of reporters, freelance journalists, analysts, researchers and contributors from around the world to run TODAY NEWS AFRICA as editor-in-chief. Simon Ateba's journalistic experience spans over 10 years and covers many beats, including business and investment, information technology, politics, diplomacy, human rights, science reporting and much more. Write him:


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