"Anti-President Trump" sentiment in the U.S. could become a barrier to American investment in space exploration, according to astronaut Al Worden.
The U.S. president has openly shared his aspirations for NASA to reach Mars and return to the moon. But speaking to CNBC's Hadley Gamble at the Dubai Air Show on Monday, Worden — who served as the command module pilot in NASA's Apollo 15 mission to the moon — expressed doubts as to whether the president would be successful in his push for increased investments in the space agency.
"Every four years we have a turnover in the country. Right now, we're on an upswing — President (Donald) Trump has said let's go back to the moon," he told CNBC.
"The problem we have is that it's different from when JFK was president. When JFK was president, he had the support of the country, Congress and everybody, and he could get it done. Trump, or (Vice President Mike) Pence or whoever, says 'let's go back to the moon by 2024', (but) Congress has got to supply the money, and they're probably not going to do that because they are so anti-President Trump."
"Unfortunately, I think there's a large segment of the population in the U.S. that's more interested in Trump than they are in what's good for the country," Worden added.
Trump's calls for American astronauts to land on the moon and Mars echo an international movement among global governments to push the boundaries of space exploration. China made history by landing a probe on the dark side of the moon this year, while India launched its second-ever lunar mission in July and Britain unveiled its first moon rover in October, which will launch in 2021.
Elsewhere, the United Arab Emirates' first-ever astronaut reached the International Space Station (ISS) in September, and in 2020 the country will join China and Japan in launching a Mars orbiter, according to NASA.
Worden, who in a varied career also ran in a Republican primary for the United States House of Representatives in Florida's 12th congressional district in 1982, predicted that as governments become increasingly ambitious, space exploration will have to become an international project.
"It's my belief that as we go further into space it's going to get more and more expensive, and no one country is going to want to do it on their own," he said. "I think space is going to force cooperation between countries, and I think that's a good thing."
Worden added that the International Space Station was an example of a "very, very nice cooperative effort," and noted that the U.S. had, in the past, been "very cooperative with the Russians for a long time" when it came to exploring outer space.
"I think as we go further — we're going to go back to the moon, we're going to go to Mars, but then we're going to go beyond that — it's going to require lots and lots of countries to get it done," he told CNBC.
Corporations are also turning their attention to space exploration, with a view to commercializing space travel in the coming decades. The space economy, already estimated to be worth around $400 billion, has seen aerospace firms joined by the likes of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX in the bid to make space travel accessible to the public.