The 2016 United States Presidential primary races will see their first round of voting on February 1st when the Iowa Caucuses allow voters to make their first official choices for a nominee for both major parties – Republicans (R) and Democrats (D). Ultimately, whoever’s elected President of the U.S. will go on to have a major impact on NASA, commercial space, and overall space policy in much the same way President Barack Obama and his predecessors have had.
General Election 2016 — The U.S. chooses a new President
In short, it is the President’s job to deliver a vision, set of goals, and funding plan for the nation and Congress to achieve – though Congress ultimately has authority over all budgetary matters for all U.S. Federal Government initiatives.
Under that job, the U.S. President has the right to seek expertise from like-minded people regarding the role of NASA and the nation’s space programs.
The power of the U.S. President over NASA and the space program was in many ways solidified into the office by President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) when he delivered his famous speech in May 1961 where he challenged NASA and the U.S. “to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth before this decade is out.”
Like President Eisenhower (1953-1961) before him, President Kennedy laid out a direct vision and guide for NASA, something which each President since has attempted to do with varying degrees of success.
Thus, whoever becomes the next Chief Executive of the United States will have the ability to impact and shape the American space program according to their viewpoints for years to come.
Fmr. Governor Jeb Bush (R-Florida)
For former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush, the space program has been an element of his political career for over two decades.
At a campaign stop earlier this month, NASASpaceflight.com’s Joe Denison was able to ask Governor Bush about his views on the current state of the space program in all of its complexities.
According to Bush, “I think that the idea that we do not have a replacement for the Space Shuttle, that we mothballed it and didn’t have a replacement, is outrageous.
“When we have to rely on the Russians to get payload up to the Space Station, that’s just totally wrong. And the lack of planning, the lack of interest in this I think is dangerous for our national security, for our military purposes.”
While it is true that U.S. astronauts must use the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for crew transportation to the ISS, Governor Bush did acknowledge the existence of SpaceX and private commercial companies, though he did not comment on the fact that NASA currently relies on contracts with SpaceX and Orbital ATK for a bulk of the U.S. resupply payload efforts to the Space Station.
Nonetheless, Governor Bush seemed to speak much more personally about the space program than other candidates have to date.
“My motivation for space is that this is a part of who we are. It’s a part of our DNA. This is America at its best, when we explore, when we conquer the unknown, when we discover things that in our wildest dreams we couldn’t have imagined.”
“The idea that Elon Musk has a business that is now launching payloads into space and bringing back their vehicles to use again is extraordinary. That’s the kind of capacity we need. Jeff Bezos is also focused on this as well.”
Overall, as with most of the other Presidential candidates who have thus far answered direct questions about NASA and the U.S. space program, Governor Bush’s overall commentary on the space program was positive.
Specifically, he stated that “NASA’s efforts are extraordinary in so many ways, so I think there needs to be a clear vision for what NASA’s doing. I think it needs to be done in partnership with great private sector visionaries.
“There are lots of reasons for us to be engaged, and I don’t think it’s a big investment to get the kind of returns you can with a clear strategy for space.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas):
Senator Ted Cruz, a first-term Senator elected in 2012, is the current Chairman and ranking Republican member of the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness.
As part of his duties, Cruz has initiated and held numerous Senate hearings on NASA and the U.S. space programs.
While going on record in an interview last year with the Houston Chronicle he confirmed that he is a supporter of SLS and Orion, calling them “critical to our medium- and long-term ability to explore space,”
Cruz has also provided some praise for commercial companies like SpaceX and Orbital ATK and their drive to develop commercial-based, U.S.-enabled launch abilities for resupply missions to the ISS and for crew transportation missions to Low Earth Orbit.
In interviews, Cruz has stated that he is “encouraged” by commercial cargo and crew progress while at the same time stressing that he views the commercial companies as lacking “stated exploration objectives.”
However, Senator Cruz’s most public and discussed statements regarding space exploration and his vision for NASA have so far come from the March 2015 hearing with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, during which Cruz expressed concern over the fact that NASA devotes resources to the study of Earth.
During the hearing, Cruz stated that NASA’s main priority was space exploration and that, in his view, the agency was devoting too many resources and attention to the study of Earth, citing increases to the Earth Science portion of NASA’s budget while the agency’s Exploration budget – determined by Congress, of which Cruz is a member – have decreased.
Moreover, in a December 2015 interview with National Public Radio (NPR), Senator Cruz appeared to expand on his concerns regarding NASA’s study of Earth when he claimed that the agency agreed with him that there was no evidence to support climate change.
Cruz has expressly stated that scientists, including those at NASA, knew that there was no conclusive evidence that Earth’s global temperatures were “significantly” rising when he stated, “The scientific evidence doesn’t support global warming. For the last 18 years, the satellite data – we have satellites that monitor the atmosphere. The satellites that actually measure the temperature showed no significant warming whatsoever.”
When corrected by the NPR interviewer, “I’ll just note that NASA analyzes that same data differently,” Cruz responded, “No, they don’t.”
This statement during a national interview echoed Cruz’s comments in August 2015 at a political campaign stop and Anderson, South Carolina, when NASASpaceflight.com was able to ask Senator Cruz what steps he would take to fully fund the commercial crew program and what NASA would look like in his administration.
Senator Cruz answered, “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.”
Dr. Ben Carson (R-Maryland):
One of the particular idiosyncrasies of U.S. Presidential primaries and elections are that candidates in the Republican field often have to swing more conservative during the primaries while Democratic candidates generally have the swing more liberal to obtain their parties’ respective nominations.
The eventual nominee from each party then usually swings back toward the center – as neither candidate can usually win enough of the states to clinch the election within the Electoral College and be elected President without the support of the moderates and/or independents of the U.S. electorate.
Thus, primary election campaigns usually result in candidates providing vague answers to specific questions – which allows them to shift their stance on particular issues if they are their party’s nominee for the general election without being accused of changing their stance.
In the case of Dr. Carson, he and his campaign have made somewhat vague comments regarding NASA and overall U.S. space policy.
In a 2014 interview with U.S. News and World Report, Dr. Carson stated that if elected President he would “get the NASA program off the ground because enormous numbers of inventions came out of NASA, things that we use every day. And you know we need to bring the innovative spirit back to America.”
During the course of the interview, Dr. Carson did not expand upon what he meant by “get the NASA program off the ground” and it remains uncertain exactly what Dr. Carson’s express views on NASA and its role in exploration should be.
Moreover, NASASpaceflight.com’s Joe Denison obtained the opportunity to ask Dr. Carson a direct question regarding NASA and space exploration during his campaign’s meet and greet stop in Seneca, South Carolina, in August 2015.
During the event, NASASpaceflight.com asked Dr Carson what NASA would look like under his administration.
Dr. Carson responded: “Much more vigorous because a lot of inventions came out of NASA and we’re losing our edge. And we have to control space because if we let the Chinese and the Russians control it we’re toast.”
Moreover, Carson’s next reference to space came during an interview on the Fox News Network with Bill O’Reilly.
When asked by Mr. O’Reilly why he was better suited to be President than Donald Trump or the rest of the Republican contenders at the time, Dr. Carson responded, “Well, I’m gonna talk about the fact that we have such outrageous fiscal irresponsibility that we are threatening the future for the next generations.
“I’m gonna talk about how we are putting ourselves in danger because we are not taking a leadership position in the world. All of these things, including not being in the space race, is hurting us. So many inventions came out of the space race.”
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont):
However, it is not just members of the Republican field of candidates who have answered specific questions regarding NASA and the nation’s space policy thus far this political season.
Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent-Vermont), running for the Democratic nomination, was specifically asked about NASA and his votes in the United States Senate during an Ask Me Anything (AMA) Reddit event in 2015.
The question posed to Sanders in the AMA revolved around his votes in 1996, 2000, and 2012 to decrease funding for NASA and spending on space exploration.
The question on social media asked “What, if anything, has or will convince you to provide more funding to NASA in the future?”
Senator Sanders answered that he is generally supportive of NASA because of the overall engagement and encouragement space exploration brings to so many as well as the technological, medical, and societal benefits that have stemmed from the space program.
In specific regard to his votes in 1996, 2000, and 2012, Sanders said, “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.”
(NASASpaceflight.com is committed to covering topics related to space exploration and the presidential candidates as the U.S. 2016 Presidential Election unfolds. Further articles regarding the other candidates’ views on NASA and space will follow.)
(Images: AP, NASA and L2 – including renders from L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)
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