The aerospace newspaper Space News reported the results of a questionnaire sent to the presidential candidates by ScienceDebate.org on the subject of space policy. None of the candidates went into too much detail and, indeed, libertarian candidate Gary Johnson did not respond at all. However, Democratic nominee #Hillary Clinton announced that she supports the exploration of Mars. “A goal of my administration will be to expand this knowledge even further and advance our ability to make human exploration of Mars a reality.”
On one level the statement makes sense as it is a status quo policy. The Journey to Mars program, started by President Barack Obama in April 2010, is an aspiration of #NASA to put astronaut boots on the ground of the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s. Clinton is signaling that she does not intend to change that.
On the other hand, to be frank, can anyone trust anything that comes out of Hillary Clinton’s mouth?
Let us leave aside Clinton’s record of prevarication on subjects ranging from her email server to her personal health. Indeed her response to the questionnaire repeats the often told story of her writing a letter to NASA at the tender age of 16 to inquire about becoming an astronaut, only to be cruelly rebuffed because she was a girl. Journalists have cast doubt on the veracity of that story.
We have recent examples of presidential candidates making pronouncements on the space program only to go back on such promises. Then Senator Barack Obama addressed a crowd of aerospace workers and announced his support for the Constellation space exploration program in August 2008. However, by February 2010 President Obama had canceled Constellation, gutting human space exploration in America.
The president’s defenders claim that he had been blindsided by how over budget and behind schedule Constellation was and that he had no choice to make the decision he made. But even Obama’s supporters concede that he rolled out the decision poorly, making it in secret without consulting Congress. However, Obama did have options by following the examples of two previous Democratic presidents who were faced with similar problems involving high-profile space projects begun by Republicans.
When faced with a dysfunctional Space Station Freedom project, President Bill Clinton appointed a special presidential commission to come up with options to restructure the orbiting space lab. Armed with the commission’s suggestions and bringing in Russia as a partner, Clinton morphed Freedom into the International Space Station which to this day orbits the Earth with crews conducting science research.
As recently revealed in an Ars Technica article, NASA officials broke the bad news to President Jimmy Carter that the space shuttle project was behind schedule and over budget in the late 1970s. The president made the simple decision of seeking and getting the additional funding to get the project back on track. The shuttle conducted over a hundred missions over 30 years, including helping to build the ISS.
Obama followed neither example, leaving many people to believe that he intended to deep six Constellation for both political and personal ideological reasons from the beginning. #JourneytoMars