Universe Today asked on Monday what role would space exploration play in the 2016 presidential election? Jeff Foust of Space News, reflecting conventional wisdom, tweeted a one-word answer. No.
On the positive side, NASA remains one of the public’s favorite government agencies. The space agency has done a lot of cool things that have been of benefit to the United States. It has not had a disaster like Challenger or Columbia recently. So perhaps the voters would be receptive to a candidate who supports NASA and space exploration?
On the negative side, Pew found that “science research” ranked very low in the priority of most Americans, third from the bottom and below such minor issues such as terrorism, the economy, and jobs. Of course, a clever candidate could try to link space to matters of higher concern.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida come from space states. Cruz is already a candidate for president and, in his capacity of chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, has spoken out openly in favor of space exploration. Rubio is widely expected to make his announcement. Would they be disposed to make space part of their campaigns?
Most presidential candidates include a space plank in their issues platform. Most of those planks tend to be boilerplate. Space is important to the United States and the candidate supports it. Such are written vaguely enough that they can mean anything once it is time to make policy.
The exception occurred in 2012 when then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich called for the establishment of a lunar base by 2020. He made the proposal before a Florida audience before that state’s primary. The theory was that a proposal that would benefit Florida had every potential to put Gingrich over the top. Things turned out a little different.
In retrospect, Gingrich’s proposal was poorly thought out and poorly defended. Mitt Romney, the candidate who eventually became the nominee, ridiculed the moon base proposal shamelessly. The matter even became the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit. The moon base and shortly after that Gingrich’s candidacy sunk quickly out of sight.
Gingrich’s experience does not necessarily mean that Cruz or Rubio would meet with a similar fate should they propose a big space initiative on the campaign trail. But they will have to be careful to line up arguments for the proposal, whether it is a return to the moon or some other idea. A candidate bold enough to advance space exploration as part of a 2016 presidential campaign needs to be ready to see it attacked and be prepared to answer.
To get back to the question posed, will space exploration feature in the 2016 presidential campaign. The real one word answer is, maybe.