Space policy and what should be done with NASA has barely been mentioned in the current presidential campaign this time around. However, the surge that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont has been enjoying has caused some focus on statements he has made about the space program. Sanders has opined, in the past, “I am supportive of NASA not only because of the excitement of space exploration, but because of all the additional side benefits we receive from research in that area. Sometimes, and frankly I don't remember all of those votes, one is put in a position of having to make very very difficult choices about whether you vote to provide food for hungry kids or health care for people who have none and other programs.


But, in general, I do support increasing funding for NASA." The left-leaning site NASA Watch has interpreted this statement to mean that if Sanders were to become president, he would slash NASA spending in favor of social programs.

The problem with the left’s attitude toward NASA and the space program is an old one though the debates that pitted space exploration against starving children in the halls of Congress rarely occur these days. Even during the glory days of Apollo, liberal senators such as William Proxmire and Walter Mondale, who later became vice president and then a candidate for president of the United States, decried the amount of money spent on landing a man on the moon.

Both senators fought vigorously against spending for projects such as the space shuttle after the end of Apollo.

More recently, then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama proposed delaying the Constellation space exploration program to pay for an education program. President Obama wound up canceling Constellation entirely, throwing the space program into chaos from which it has not quite emerged, despite congressional push back.

Sanders’ stance about space exploration vs. starving children and sick people represents a kind of retro politics that had not been seen since the 1990s when President Clinton placed the space station project on a sustainable course.


A rough consensus has developed that suggests that the United States should explore space, with the arguments being about how, where, and how much. If Sanders were to be elected president, he might challenge that consensus and further damage the vitality of America’s space effort.