Is Space Exploration a Bipartisan Issue Trump Can Seize?
When Barack Obama shut down much of NASA’s Space Shuttle funding eight years ago, many were disappointed. After all, his predecessor George W. Bush had worked hard to create a program that would put humans back on the moon by 2020. And while nobody could have guessed it at the time, Obama’s actions could open a door for President Trump to gain bipartisan support for a revitalized program.
Trump Renews Focus on Space Exploration
This past March, right in the middle of his “First 100 Days,” Trump sat down in the Oval Office and met with some of NASA’s biggest figures to talk about a mini victory. The president had just signed a bill that authorized giving the agency a current year budget boost to $19.5 billion and restoring the focus on manned space flights.
Trump was happy, cutting jokes with his White House visitors, and even charming the members of the press who were there taking pictures and rapidly recording sound bites. It was a rare moment of togetherness. The slimy journalists weren’t asking leading questions in hopes of grabbing an infamous Trump sound bite and spinning it out of context for a front-page piece. The president appeared relaxed and happy to be entertaining. The NASA guests all had ear-to-ear smiles, probably thinking more about the future than the present.
This scene might have just been another day in what could be four to eight years’ worth of meetings with various groups in the Oval Office, but there’s also the potential that it could prove to be one of President Trump’s defining moments.
The American Fascination With Space
People have a fascination with space. Little kids want to grow up to be astronauts. People are fascinated by the idea of naming a star after someone. Hollywood’s space-inspired flicks always seize the public’s attention. Rich or poor, white or black, lefty or righty… people of every background are enthralled by the idea that there are other planets floating around in the galaxy -- some of them perhaps being able to sustain life.
While space exploration may not be as pressing an issue as the national debt, immigration, ISIS, healthcare, tax reform, and all of the other topics at the center of America attention right now, it’s unique in one very important way: it’s something everyone can get behind.
There isn’t much to complain about when it comes to funding space exploration. Nobody wants to be the one person in the room that says he doesn’t care about exploring the universe and discovering new life-forms. It’s an exciting issue -- one that may be directly tied to politics, but doesn’t have to be overtly politicized every single day.
Obama caused ripples when he pulled the plug on NASA’s manned space flights and instead refocused the agency’s energy on research and development of robotics. Even though it saved money -- something most conservatives would generally be happy with -- it was a slap in the face to many.
Republicans and Democrats alike questioned the move and wondered if it was the right thing to do. Famous astronauts like Neil Armstrong, James Lovell, and Eugene Cernan even penned a letter at the time saying the U.S. was becoming a “second or even third-rate” spacefaring nation.
Some have even suggested that Obama ruined NASA space exploration forever. But that’s not entirely accurate. What Obama’s poor choices have done is open the door for Trump to come in and get some quick wins within the first few months of his presidency.
Trump Can Build Some Safe Equity
“Space policy has given Trump an opportunity to deploy his signature sweeping praise with little risk of backlash,” writes Marina Koren of the Atlantic. “Missions take years to develop and execute, usually outlasting presidents and absolving them of any accountability. The space program has historically enjoyed bipartisan support in Washington, so it’s usually a safe bet for any politician.”
As Koren notes, the majority of the public views NASA in a positive light. It’s not some “bureaucratic mess inside the government, but the inspiration machine for future generations.” By breathing life back into space exploration programs, Trump can tell people that he’s ready to go where no country, person, or space program has ever gone before.
These are positive sound bites that are virtually impossible for the media to twist. They drive up ratings, put America first in a manner that even the globalists on the left can agree is good, and give the new president a stake he can put in the ground and say, “See, progress is possible even in a partisan environment.”
As John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University, told Koren in her piece, “If the president’s lips move and he says positive things about the space program, that’s good for the space program. I’m not sure Ronald Reagan knew a lot about the space program, but he said the right words.”
The Trump Administration’s current budget will give NASA a chance to be successful with space exploration in the near future. Now, what NASA does with that money is an entirely different story. The good news for Trump is that it’s nearly impossible for him to come out looking bad.