Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Let's Talk Space

For whatever reason, both the Trump and Clinton campaigns finally are talking more about U.S. space policy.

Space News published on October 19 a guest column by two Trump campaign surrogates detailing what they say would be a Trump administration space policy. A second “peace through strength” Trump column appeared on October 24, written by the same authors.

Mr. Trump was supposed to have toured Kennedy Space Center yesterday, but bailed on that for a campaign rally in Sanford, Florida. Marcia Smith of reported on his space-related comments. Trump insulted NASA, stating, “I will free NASA from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistics agency for low earth orbit activity. Big deal.” Anyone paying attention knows that the human spaceflight part of the agency is focused on developing the technology and strategy to put a human on Mars by the end of the 2030s. NASA robotic craft are at Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and last year flew past Pluto.

Trump claimed, “My plan also includes major investments in space exploration, also right here.” That contradicts what he said to a ten-year old boy in New Hampshire last November, telling the lad that filling potholes is more important.

The Clinton campaign until now hasn't said much about space, but yesterday Clinton surrogate Jim Kohlenberger published on Space News what he claimed will be her space policy.

The column has little in the way of new initiatives, but Kohlenberger did write this interesting passage:

And, to solve problems more effectively and expeditiously, she will elevate executive branch coordination of federal agency space initiatives and accelerate the development of advanced new technologies — multiplying what we can achieve in space and providing taxpayers even more bang for their buck.

I find the phrase “elevate executive branch coordination of federal agency space initiatives” curious. It could just be a surrogate writing filler. Or it might signal an intent to create a Cabinet-level science technology agency. Some space advocates have dreamed that NASA become a Cabinet-level agency. That won't happen, but a Cabinet-level agency dedicated to science might be plausible, if it can get past Congress.

The balance of the article seems to support the Obama-era space policies, although no specific mention is made of Congress' favorite pork project, the Space Launch System. Critics have dubbed it the Senate Launch System, because Congress created SLS in 2010 to protect Shuttle-era jobs in the space-related states and districts of certain members of Congress.

President Obama will be in Orlando Friday for a Clinton campaign rally at the University of Central Florida. It's too much to hope that Obama might take one final lap at KSC, but let's see if he makes any space-related comments.

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