Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said a lot about border walls, Muslim immigration and restoring manufacturing in the United States. Yet he hasn't said much about the U.S. space program, which makes his use of space imagery in recent ads seem all the more curious.
"Aspire to Greatness" is the lofty message seen in digital ads from the campaign spotted around the web by online ad tracking firm Moat Pro. Two intergalactic ads, one featuring an astronaut in full NASA gear including a space helmet and another with a shot of a NASA spacecraft blasting off into the cosmos, have run since late July, just in time for the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969.
Both images of space exploration are juxtaposed with the same photo of the real estate tycoon peering into the distance, a white "Make America Great Again" baseball hat perched on his head.
But why space? The candidate's use of intergalactic imagery and recent hat-tips to NASA seem intended to loosely associate him with the elevated goals of U.S. space exploration, rather than any concrete promises about its future funding.
Indeed, he has said little about funding space exploration or NASA. Even in a Facebook post he made around the same time as the display ads began to appear, there is only implied support for the space program:
"47 years ago our nation did something that NOBODY thought we could do - we were the first to put a man on the moon. It is time to be number one, again! Believe me, as President, we will once again, Make America First Again!#AmericaFirst #MakeAmericaGreatAgain #RNCinCLE"
More recently, the GOP hopeful was asked about NASA during a Reddit Ask Me Anything interview. His response was not exactly substantive and only implied support for the space program: "Honestly I think NASA is wonderful! America has always led the world in space exploration," he wrote.
The candidate has also offered mixed messages about what funding for NASA might look like under a Trump administration. In November, Mr. Trump made headlines when he told a boy at an event in New Hampshire that he might favor other priorities over space. According to a Washington Post report, when asked about "his opinions on NASA," Mr. Trump said:
You know, in the old days, it was great .... Right now, we have bigger problems -- you understand that? We've got to fix our potholes. You know, we don't exactly have a lot of money.
However, in 2012, Mr. Trump lamented what he referred to as a "gutted" NASA program:
It is very sad to see what @BarackObama has done with NASA. He has gutted the program and made us dependent on the Russians.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2012
The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment on the use of space imagery.