As 2015, an eventful year in space, draws to a close, the political year of 2016 draws nigh. In the spirit of space and politics, Breitbart Tech opined Tuesday that the one thing Donald Trump really needs to do to “make America great again” would be to ramp up the space program. The article offers a familiar recitation of the history of space exploration, starting with the Apollo program and finishing up with SpaceX’s remarkable feat of landing a rocket, which had just flown into space, back near the launch pad. However, on at least two occasions, Trump has been quoted as disparaging space exploration in favor of spending on America’s infrastructure.
Still, there is much the next president might do whomever he or she will be.
“We have some goals that NASA should be focusing on and we should fund them — such as landing a man on Mars and establishing a stable colony on the Moon for scientific research, to learn how we can exploit its resources.
“Whichever party we vote for, we should want America to win the race to Mars’s natural resources and not simply hand over the vast profits and strategic power to Elon Musk by handing him hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.
“There are also urgent, pragmatic issues that should motivate a greater focus on NASA. Asteroids constantly breeze past us. Solar flares disrupt our communications. In order to react accordingly, we need to understand what’s happening around us — yet we still don’t. The first duty of government is to protect its citizens, and NASA is an important component in that battle.
“There are a lot of things we could do, be it major investments in private space (with appropriate caveats and partnership agreements), additional scholarships, education for STEM degrees… or a solid-gold rocket with “TRUMP” on the side.”
The question of a new space initiative such as a mission to Mars has been put to Trump before, once in August by an MIT NASA fellow and once in November by a ten-year-old boy. If both instances, Trump indicated that infrastructure, building roads and bridges, was more important than going to Mars,
The problem with space initiatives, even ones that leverage the private sector, is that they tend to rely on presidential leadership, as this writer points out in Why is it so Hard to Go Back to the Moon? John F. Kennedy sent America to the moon. Richard Nixon started the space shuttle program. Ronald Reagan started the space station, and Bill Clinton saved that project from cancellation. Both presidents named George Bush proposed ambitious space exploration programs, only to see them collapse. Barack Obama has had a deleterious effect on NASA by cancelling the return to the moon program and making the commercial space sector too dependent on government subsidies. The next president will have much to say on the future course of space exploration.
The related problem is that space policy rarely if ever comes up in political campaigns. When it does, like when Newt Gingrich proposed a moon base during the 2012 election campaign, the result does not necessarily create a benefit for the candidate making the proposal.
So, could Donald Trump change his mind and include space in his agenda for American greatness? He has made far more off-putting proposals. Maybe it is time he put forth something that is inspiring instead of cringe worthy.