As you know, I don’t endorse candidates and I treat them equally when it comes to calling them out for their comments and ideas, blunderous or otherwise. But on this election day I’d like to note that after more than a year and a half of campaigning, debates, and interviews, neither Presidential candidate has put forward a space policy. They haven’t even posted a few paragraphs on their position on the subject on their websites, nor has the mainstream media even asked. The closest we have gotten is this. For a campaign that has discussed everything from hand size to terminal coughs, this silence is as unprecedented as it is pathetic. It should also be seen as an indicator of how poorly America’s space program has been handled in recent years – and the last few decades for that matter.
Back at the end of primary season, I wrote the feature story “The Fact That None Of The 2016 Presidential Candidates Have A Space Policy Is Tragic” (a must read for context here) all about this dismal reality. At that time I explained that really none of the original candidates on either side had any sort of a solid space policy, and dove into why this unprecedented situation likely exists. My hope at the time was that this would be rectified during the long period leading up the Presidential election, when the media puts just two candidates and their policies, or lack thereof, under a microscope.
Now, fast forward eight months and nothing has changed. We still know as much about their space policy as we did when they entered the race, which is nothing. Trump even had an astronaut speak at the Republican National Convention in July, what a great opportunity that would have been to roll out a few details as to where he wants our space program headed. That did not happen. This was bizarre, but not surprising considering The Donald’s lack of details on virtually all his policy positions and plans.
Hillary Clinton on the other hand, a supposed policy dork with years of experience making things happen within the bowels of Washington, has given just as much detail as Trump when it comes to a space policy: Zero. She even addressed the prospect of alien visitors and their relationship to Area 51 but has said nearly nothing about America’s future aspirations in space.
Like Trump, Clinton invited an astronaut to speak at the Democratic National Convention. Famed Navy A-6 Intruder pilot and Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly took the dais, but his speech was not about space, instead it concentrated on gun control. Not unexpected, his wife Gabrielle Giffords, is one of America’s highest profile victims of gun violence, and the couple is active in the gun control debate.
So there you have it, a whole Presidential election cycle in which America’s space program seemed to simply not exist. The commercial crew initiative likely has something to do with it, but this controversial change in the way Americans look to access space is all the more reason to have a clear space policy going forward.
The next President, whether it be Trump or Clinton, will inherit a neutered NASA and a heavy launch vehicle system, the SLS, which is largely made up of recycled parts and exists without a clear mission. Some may see the dawn of new opportunities in spaceflight, others see it as giant step backwards – one that was built largely on misinformation and dubious goals. It’s hard to argue that America has not stood still when it comes to technological advancement surrounding human spaceflight while private companies relearn the lessons of the 1960s largely on the taxpayer's dime. Elsewhere, China’s space program continues to steadily march forward, and the Russians, who are not exactly cozy with the US at the moment, tout America's dependence on them for access to the same space station that the US largely funds.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, one thing is certain: Our next president will likely be woefully uninformed on the subject of America’s space program. Pretty tragic, considering that we need someone in the Oval Office who is just the opposite, now more than ever.
Contact the author Tyler@thedrive.com