Presidential candidates finally comment on space exploration

For a government agency that received more than $19 billion in funding during the 2016 fiscal year, NASA has largely not been the subject of neither Hillary Clinton’s nor Donald Trump’s comments during the election cycle.  But ScienceDebate.org released the results of a questionnaire that went to all candidates that focused on the presidential candidates’ views on science, and in the responses, both major party candidates offered their most detailed views on space exploration yet.  

To be fair, there still weren’t too many details. 

Clinton threw her support behind space exploration, specifically mentioning she supports NASA’s efforts to send humans to Mars.  That initiative is built on the Space Launch System super-heavy lift rocket, which is headquartered at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.  NASA’s “Journey to Mars” was started under President Obama and is working towards the goal of putting boots on the Red Planet in the 2030’s. 

“Today, thanks to a series of successful American robotic explorers, we know more about the Red Planet than ever before,” Clinton said in her response.  “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.” 

The former Secretary of State also mentioned programs like planetary science exploration and the International Space Station, which has been hailed as one of the greatest examples of international cooperation in history. 

Trump seemed more supportive of space exploration than previous statements he made during the Republican primary process.  He did not mention any programs specifically, nor did he voice support for sending humans to Mars.  

“The cascading effects of a vibrant space program are legion and can have a positive, constructive impact on the pride and direction of this country,” Trump said in his response. “Observation from space and exploring beyond our own space neighborhood should be priorities. We should also seek global partners, because space is not the sole property of America. All humankind benefits from reaching into the stars.”

But Trump, in an answer to a question on innovation, did suggest that limiting federal spending was also a priority.  

“The federal government should encourage innovation in the areas of space exploration and investment in research and development across the broad landscape of academia,” he said. “Though there are increasing demands to curtail spending and to balance the federal budget, we must make the commitment to invest in science, engineering, healthcare and other areas that will make the lives of Americans better, safer and more prosperous.”

Both candidates supported continued international partnerships in space.  Full responses on the space section of the questionnaire can be read below, including a response from the Green Party’s Jill Stein.  The Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson did not reply by the time of writing.

Clinton:

President Kennedy’s challenge in 1962 to go to the Moon within a decade electrified the nation, prompted a long period of American leadership in science and technology, and spurred a generation of innovators. 

In the decades since, we have explored the sun and every planet in our solar system; mapped the surface and studied the atmosphere of Mars and confirmed the presence of water on the Red Planet; discovered new solar systems with Earth-like planets; mapped the distribution of galaxies in the universe; observed black holes, dark matter, and dark energy; built programs to monitor our ozone layer and the catastrophic impact of global climate change; and identified and mapped near-Earth asteroids as a first step to protect our planet from a major asteroid impact. The International Space Station stands as the largest and most complex international technological project in history and has been key to understanding the response of the human body to long periods in zero gravity.  And in recent years, new companies have sprung up that offer the promise of innovative approaches to transporting cargo and, eventually, humans in space. Americans have always been willing to think big, take risks, and push forward. These pillars will continue to underpin what America does in space, just as they define who we are as a people.

As president, my administration will build on this progress, promote innovation, and advance inspirational, achievable, and affordable space initiatives.  We must maintain our nation’s leadership in space with a program that balances science, technology and exploration; protect our security and the future of the planet through international collaboration and Earth systems monitoring; expand our robotic presence in the solar system; and maximize the impact of our R&D and other space program investments by promoting stronger coordination across federal agencies, and cooperation with industry. I will work with Congress to ensure that NASA has the leadership, funding and operational flexibility necessary to work in new ways with industry, placing emphasis on inventing and employing new technologies and efficiencies to get more bang for the buck while creating jobs and growing the American economy. 

Today, thanks to a series of successful American robotic explorers, we know more about the Red Planet than ever before. 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. 

As a young girl, I was so inspired by America’s leadership and accomplishments in space that I wrote to NASA about becoming an astronaut. As president, I will help inspire the next generation of young Americans and do what I can to ensure that we have the world’s most exciting and advanced space program, one that meets our highest human aspirations in a world where the sky is no longer the limit.

Trump:

Space exploration has given so much to America, including tremendous pride in our scientific and engineering prowess.  A strong space program will encourage our children to seek STEM educational outcomes and will bring millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in investment to this country.  The cascading effects of a vibrant space program are legion and can have a positive, constructive impact on the pride and direction of this country.  Observation from space and exploring beyond our own space neighborhood should be priorities.  We should also seek global partners, because space is not the sole property of America.  All humankind benefits from reaching into the stars.

Stein:

We recognize the inspiration provided by space exploration and so we support:

1. the peaceful exploration of space

2. space-based systems to monitor environmental conditions on Earth

3. measures to ensure that space technology benefits all the people of Earth

Space exploration and science are international scientific endeavours requiring cooperation between many nations and peoples across borders. The peaceful exploration of space provides inspiration, education, and valuable scientific knowledge. Cooperation on space science and exploration is a promising path to peace. The US has an opportunity to continue leading in space science while ending space militarization. The US can lead international collaboration in space science and exploration without privatizing outer space or turning over space science and exploration efforts to corporations.

Climate science, including the study of other planets in our solar system and beyond, is essential for understanding how to address climate change on Earth. Space science, exploration, and Earth observation provide tools, technologies, and science to help address not only climate change but flooding, drought, storms, famine, and other crises. By focusing US space efforts away from corporate and military interests, we can work to create peace here on Earth and in space, prevent the deployment of space weapons and instead focus on technologies to solve problems on Earth, not create new ones.

Here are steps we will take to advance space exploration and science:

– Funding STEM education and forgiving student debt of STEM scholars so they can focus on science and research.

– signing of the International Treaty for the Demilitarization of Space. 

– Ensuring scientists, not corporate or military interests, are driving the space exploration and science agenda

– Ensure funding of pure research, for the benefit of all humanity and our planet.

– Work closely with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) on ensuring the peaceful exploration of space.