Isis and Foreign Policy. The economy. Healthcare.
These are all primetime issues that voter from all demographic backgrounds care about. More or less these are the core issues that serve as the true movers of votes: they’re what candidates pander to, campaigns consistently buy ads for, and what the media talks about 24/7.
But as the choices for President narrow down and their ideological beliefs seem to slim in many fields, it’s often times the more obscure issues that highlight the largest differences in the potential governing approach of the candidates.
Space, as it relates to NASA and the funding of missions centered around space exploration, is very rarely one of those issues that pushes voters between one candidate or the other (unless you’re living in either central Florida or the Houston area).
So whether you’re for some reason particularly interested in space exploration and extrapolation of scientific research (like me), or so undecided on your vote that an issue like space could tip the balance (also like me), then this conversation is for you.
The Texas Senator has a suprisingly lengthy history of supporting NASA. Back in 2015 he was asked by NasaSpaceflight.com about his stance on NASA, and he said the following:
“It is an incredibly high priority… One of the real problems with the Obama administration is they’ve de-emphasized space exploration. They’ve de-emphasized the hard sciences, and they’re diverting more and more of the NASA budget to political agendas like studying global warming instead of fulfilling the core mission of NASA. So I have been pressing to focus on what NASA was created to do – which is space exploration. And that’s gonna remain a real priority – to focus on the heart of the agency and not on political distractions.”
This isn’t a suprising answer. As the Chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Space, Science, and competitiveness, he’s got his ear to the ground on issues that matter most to NASA junkies (primarily space exploration). But his focus on ‘hard sciences’ over the recent climate change work of NASA is also politically charged and potentially damaging to the overall mision of the crew down at Cape Canaveral. At this point, you can’t have NASA without climate change, so maybe the Senator should read up a bit on why it’s important to have a healthy planet before we attempt to colonize another.
The Ohio Governor is one of the toughest candidates to peg when it comes to NASA funding. He’s been relatively hush-hush over the matter, but I wouldn’t expect that he’d deviate far from the GOP-establishment stance on NASA and science funding.
What you could expect from a Kasich administration would probably be the same as you saw in a Bush administration, but potentially less focus. Keep in mind that the Space Shuttle Program was nearing its end right at the sunset of the W. years, so the introduction of large, expansive space exploration projects during recent Republican administrations hasn’t been incredibly impressive.
Donald Trump is… Donald Trump. A populist who, more or less, steers away from concrete policy in exchange for gotcha soundbites.
But he has echoed a familiar belief on NASA and space exploration that we’ll revisit later. This is what he had to say at a rally last year:
“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…”
This is the sort of belief that you’ll hear from almost every single person who fails to see the economic and intellectual benefits of funding NASA-related projects. The prevailing notion is this: you can’t push for investment in NASA and similar projects without ‘fixing things at home first’ (let’s totally ignore the lunacy of this for a second and focus on the populist appeal of it). He later backtracked a bit and said:
“I love NASA…I love what it represents, I love what it stands for, and I hope that someday in the not-too-distant future, we can get that going. Space is terrific.”
Yes, Mr. Trump, space is terrific. So terrific that it’s the only reason that any of us are here, and it’s totally worth, you know, exploring a little bit more.
So yeah, not great marks for Trump on the NASA question.
A lot of the mainstream media decries the Vermont Senator as a one-issue candidate, and I’ve tried my best to push back against that narrative. Bernie’s comments on NASA and space exploration, however, seem to add credence to some of liberals’ worst fears.
Here’s what his campaign website says:
“Bernie supports NASA’s mission and is generally in favor of increasing funding for NASA, but only after the needs of Americans on Earth are first met.”
Okay. That’s a b.s dichotomy there. But we’ll live with it. Here’s what he’s had to say on the campaign trail, and why he had to put that diddy about NASA and science/tech. on his campaign page.
“Sometimes, and frankly I don’t remember all of those votes, one is put in a position of having to make very, very difficult choices about whether you vote to provide food for hungry kids or health care for people who have none and other programs. But, in general, I do support increasing funding for NASA.”
Reddit actually exploded over this same question previously, as many liberals (myself included) would count themselves both very ideologically aligned with the Senator yet also extremely pro-scientific research and funding.
So yes, Bernie Sanders does support the general aim of NASA, but he’d willing to cut it for other things. Things that many people would deem as much more important for the health of the nation (I’ll probably write in a later post about why this doesn’t have to be a choice). But would NASA and the NSF receive the same sort of funding under a Sanders Administration, or would they be left out to dry? I’d guess that they’d continue to be staples of the federal budget’s ridiculously small focus on similar investments. And, who knows, maybe some of that new revenue from tax increases would trickle down to the Kennedy Space Center.
Clinton’s place within this discussion is both personal and incredibly eye-opening about the way in which space and related scientific endeavors are still barred for many women in these industries. As a child, she famously wrote a letter to NASA asking to be considered for an astronaut, and was replied with a no, saying (and I paraphrase):
“Thanks for the offer, but we don’t want women astronauts” -NASA in the mid 60’s
Personal anecdotes aside, Hillary Clinton seems to be solid on the issue of space exploration. All of her discussions of the matter during the 2008 election were very establishment and status quo, and I can imagine that we would see the same in 2016. She said in 2008:
“( I am) committed to a space exploration program that involves robust human spaceflight to complete the Space Station and later human missions, expanded robotic spaceflight probes of our solar system leading to future human exploration, and enhanced space science activities…”
See? Basic campaign website stuff right there. It’s not a departure from the Obama doctrine on NASA, and we probably shouldn’t assume that a Clinton Administration would be dramatically different, except for certain missions that may take place (ones that have already been planned by crews throughout the country).
So what does this all mean for NASA and the future of space exploration?
One of the aspects of space exploration not talked about in this piece is the current emergence of commercialized space industries such as SpaceX, companies that are already revolutionizing the ways in which humans conduct space flight. A lot of the rapid changes in space exploration over the next eight to ten years will be focused in this industry, as well as the development of long-range NASA rockets that will one day propel astronauts to Mars and (hopefully) beyond.
But will any of these candidates derail NASA’s current efforts to develop long distance rockets that could aim for Mars, such as LSP (Launch Services Program) and the new Orion missions? Maybe. I could see someone like Trump doing it, but what incentive would even he have to rob America of it’s arguably most hopeful scientific project for the next two decades? Probably none. But it’s worth talking about anyways. Especially as America, and the rest of the World, begin to reach for the stars again.