The Verge notes that the future of NASA and #Space exploration depends on the outcome of the 2016 elections. Unfortunately, neither candidate, #Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump, has chosen to open their minds on the issue aside from confusing statements and empty platitudes. Neither candidate seems to have anyone on staff who handles space issues. Neither candidate has offered any detailed policy positions concerning space.
Since NASA is a high profile agency that spends a not insignificant amount of money, this state of affairs needs to change.
The next president will be presented with a number of decisions concerning the space agency, thanks to the unwise decision by the Obama administration to close down the Constellation space exploration program. Ultimately the underfunded and unfocused Journey to Mars program replaced it.
Should the country stay the course on the Journey to Mars? This option would seem to be preferred by Congress which would not tolerate another abrupt change of direction with programs canceled and another space initiative debated. But staying the course does provide a number of options. Should the United States bite the bullet and increase NASA’s budget to make the Journey to Mars viable? Should America return to the moon first, the argument being that access to lunar water that could be refined into rocket fuel would make Mars more affordable? If we do return to the moon, how will we do it? How would international and commercial partnerships be structured to make a lunar return happen?.
Another question concerns the future of the International Space Station. Should it be scrapped, commercialized, or extended in 2024 when its operational life is due to expire?
Clinton and Trump may prefer to shy away from being too open about their future space plans, noting what happened to Newt Gingrich in 2012. Such a strategy would be a big mistake. By laying out what they intend to do with NASA and commercial space before the election, both candidates would establish a mandate to carry out those plans if and when they are election president. Otherwise, any new direction or even a course change toward the old direction would run into avoidable resistance.