OPINION: What are the 2016 presidential contenders’ views on space?
Voters are likely having a hard time learning about how the two major candidates for President of the United States, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, feel about space exploration. Neither of their websites mentions NASA or space exploration. The platforms for each Party only give a cursory mention of these topics. Space exploration simply doesn’t top the agenda during this election.
According to Hillary Clinton’s 2003 memoir Living History:
I had always been fascinated by exploration and space travel, maybe in part because my dad was so concerned about America lagging behind Russia. President Kennedy’s vow to put men on the Moon excited me, and I wrote to NASA to volunteer for astronaut training. I received a letter back informing me that they were not accepting girls in the program. It was the first time I had hit an obstacle I couldn’t overcome with hard work and determination, and I was outraged. Of course, my poor eyesight and mediocre physical abilities would have disqualified me anyway, regardless of gender. Still, the blanket rejection hurt and made me more sympathetic later to anyone confronted with discrimination of any kind.
Though Clinton has often repeated his story, the Washington Post reported in a November 30, 2015, fact-checker story that they were unable to find any evidence of such a claim. However, they concluded: “After receiving more information from the National Air and Space Museum, specifically a March 1962 letter with a similar tone and message as the Miss Kelly letter and Clinton’s account, we decided the claim met the ‘reasonable person’ standard. We award Clinton the rare Geppetto Checkmark.”
On the other hand, there is no mention of NASA or space exploration in Clinton’s 2014, 600-page detailed discussion of policy issues Hard Choices.
In contrast, the 2016 Democratic Party Platform, dated July 21, 2016, briefly mentions space issues on page 10, under the banner of Pursuing Our Innovation Agenda: Science, Research, Education, and Technology:
Democrats are immensely proud of all that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has done – through its achievements in science, technology and exploration – to better understand our place in the universe and inspire and educate generations of young people in this country to pursue careers in science. Space exploration is a reminder that our capacity for curiosity is limitless, and may be matched only by our ability to achieve great things if we work together. Democrats believe in continuing the spirit of discovery that has animated NASA’s exploration of space over the last half century. We will strengthen support for NASA and work in partnership with the international scientific community to launch new missions to space.
In contrast to Clinton’s childhood, there are no reports that young Donald Trump had visions of becoming an astronaut.
However, Trump likely approved former astronaut Eileen Collins as a speaker at the 2016 GOP National Convention held in Cleveland in July 2016. Collins was the commander on STS-93 (July 22–27, 1999) and STS-114 (July 26 to August 9, 2005); a veteran of four space flights, Collins logged more than 872 hours in space and retired from NASA in May 2006.
According to Mashable.com‘s Miriam Kramer on July 21, 2016:
While Collins did not mention Trump’s name, she did invoke both the Trump campaign’s theme for the evening, “Make America First Again,” as well as the campaign’s overall slogan: “Make America Great Again.”
“We need leadership that will make America’s space program first again,” Collins said during the speech. Collins called for better leadership in spaceflight and policy, saying that NASA has lost its number one position in exploration since John F. Kennedy tasked the space agency with sending people to the Moon.
“This is a chance I could not pass up: We can raise awareness of how the U.S. human space program has slowed over the years,” Collins told Mashable on July 20, 2016.
Kramer further reported that Collins got mixed reviews regarding her appearance at the convention. Former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver, currently the General Manager of the Airline Pilots Association, International, criticized Collins, while some other unnamed astronauts expressed support.
The 2016 Republican Party Platform describes the GOP view of space exploration on page 6, under the heading Building the Future: Technology:
The public-private partnerships between NASA, the Department of Defense, and commercial companies have given us technological progress that has reduced the cost of accessing space and extended America’s space leadership in the commercial, civil, and national security spheres. The entrepreneurship and innovation culture of the free market is revitalizing the nation’s space capabilities, saving taxpayer money, and advancing technology critical to maintain America’s edge in space and in other fields. To protect our national security interests and foster innovation and competitiveness, we must sustain our preeminence in space by launching more scientific missions, guaranteeing unfettered access, and ensuring that our space-related industries remain a source of scientific leadership and education.
Perhaps NASA and space exploration will be a topic raised in one of the three upcoming Presidential Debates. The first of these is scheduled to take place on Monday, Sept. 26. These debates could provide voters with the opportunity to learn more about the candidates’ views on space exploration before the November 8 election – but given the lack of notable information in either of the parties’ platforms, this is unlikely.
This is an editorial based on the opinions of the author and does not, necessarily, reflect those of SpaceFlight Insider.
Jim Siegel comes from a business and engineering background, as well as a journalistic one. He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University, an MBA from the University of Michigan, and executive certificates from Northwestern University and Duke University. Jim got interested in journalism in 2002. As a resident of Celebration, FL, Disney’s planned community outside Orlando, he has written and performed photography extensively for the Celebration Independent and the Celebration News. He has also written for the Detroit News, the Indianapolis Star, and the Northwest Indiana Times (where he started his newspaper career at age 11 as a paperboy). Jim is well known around Celebration for his photography, and he recently published a book of his favorite Celebration scenes. Jim has covered the Kennedy Space Center since 2006. His experience has brought a unique perspective to his coverage of first, the space shuttle Program, and now the post-shuttle era, as US space exploration accelerates its dependence on commercial companies. He specializes in converting the often highly technical aspects of the space program into contexts that can be understood and appreciated by average Americans.