Click the arrow to watch the Mike Pence rally in Cocoa, Florida. Video source: Live Satellite News YouTube channel.
Republican vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence spoke today in Cocoa, Florida, about a week after his running mate Donald Trump bailed on a tour of Kennedy Space Center so he could go to a larger rally in Sanford, Florida.
Pence didn't visit KSC either, but he did speak at the Space Coast Convention Center, the site where four years ago Newt Gingrich delivered a space policy speech during the 2012 Florida Republican presidential primary. That speech got Gingrich ridiculed on Saturday Night Live.
After twenty minutes of the usual red-meat rhetoric typical of a Trump-slate stump speech, Pence finally spoke about what he claimed would be Mr. Trump's space policy. He said they would bring “a new vision” to the government space program, but then said they would expand public-private partnerships, which is exactly what the Obama administration is doing. He also said NASA should focus on deep space exploration, which of course is what it does every day with its robotic craft. Pence said NASA needs to lead; NASA's Space Launch System and Orion capsule are the only vehicle on Planet Earth being built now to send astronauts beyond Earth orbit, and the agency is the managing partner for the International Space Station.
Pence said their administration would “make the investments” to implement their policy, but didn't explain how they would pay for it.
No mention was made of the ISS, of NASA's role as its managing partner, of still using ISS as a testbed for the private sector, or if their administration intends to extend the ISS beyond the current 2024 agreements to its projected life span of 2028. His comment about reorienting NASA to deep space exploration implies they might not. This has echoes of how the George W. Bush administration attempted to truncate the ISS in 2015 to pay for Constellation, a program to put people on the Moon sometime in the 2020s. Constellation ran years behind schedule and went billions of dollars over budget. The Obama administration proposed in 2010 that Constellation be cancelled to extend the ISS to 2020, supported by commercial cargo and crew missions. Congress in the end finally agreed, but only after creating the Space Launch System to protect Shuttle and Constellation contractor jobs.
Pence said he was proud Trump intends to re-establish the National Space Council, an archaic relic of the 1960s that was jettisoned by President Nixon in 1973. Pence bragged that he himself would head it, but the Council in the past served no useful purpose. It was an advisory body, typically ignored by the President. George H.W. Bush briefly revived it in 1989, but after Vice President Dan Quayle tried to use the position to run NASA himself the Council was once again abolished by Congress in 1993.
About four minutes of the speech was about space.
The Trump campaign policy is one written two weeks ago by former Republican congressman Robert Walker. Walker told Space News that he was hired by the Trump campaign in mid-October to develop a space policy. It roughly coincided with the Trump campaign's sudden interest in the Space Coast.
Prior to that, Mr. Trump said little about space. In November 2015, Trump told a ten-year old boy in New Hampshire that he'd rather fill potholes than fund NASA. In August, Trump said in Daytona Beach that NASA was “like a Third World nation,” oblivious to all NASA is doing in the solar system that no other nation on Earth can do.
But with Florida's 29 electoral votes in play, the Trump campaign in October has suddenly found space religion.
As of this writing, forecasting site FiveThirtyEight.com calculates that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has a 48.1% to 47.5% lead in Florida over Trump.
Both candidates are focusing on regions in Florida where they need to increase voter turnout. Brevard County is largely Republican, so the Trump campaign focuses on the Space Coast while the Clinton campaign goes elsewhere. Florida Today reported this afternoon that Clinton will be in Sanford tomorrow for a rally, the same town where Trump went on October 25 after bailing on KSC.
The election has one week to go. There's no indication that Clinton will visit the Space Coast. We'll see if the voting tally proves that Mike Pence's visit made any difference.