First Lady Hillary Clinton (left) with first female Space Shuttle commander Eileen Collins at Dunbar High School in Washington, DC on March 5, 1998.
The news broke earlier today that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign has cancelled plans announced earlier this week to tour Kennedy Space Center on October 24 or 25.
The invitation came from the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, whose web site describes the agency as “an innovative, countywide, not-for-profit partnership between the Brevard County Commission and the Space Coast business community. Business leaders, chambers of commerce, local and state government leaders, and community organizations contribute to the overall mission of the EDC.”
According to the October 18 Florida Today report, the EDC issued invitations to both Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
If the Clinton campaign responded, we haven't heard about it.
From a calculated political perspective, there's little upside to Clinton spending campaign time in Brevard County.
As I wrote on October 18, the county is a safe Republican district. In the last three presidential elections, the Democratic candidate lost by anywhere from about 10% to 16%. For this election, about 42% of the county is registered Republican, while 32% are Democrat.
As of this writing, election forecast web site FiveThirtyEight.com projects that Clinton will beat Trump in Florida by 49.2% to 45.5%. Both candidates will be trolling safe districts in the next two weeks trying to increase turnout. Few undecided voters remain, and early voting has already begun in the state.
FiveThirtyEight.com estimates that, as of this writing, Clinton has an 85.8% chance of winning the electoral college and therefore the Presidency. Her margin of victory in the college would be about 140 votes.
So let's go with the statistical data, and assume Clinton is elected President.
What might be her administration's space policy?
Hard to say.
Visit her campaign web site, and you won't find any position papers on space policy.
Space News posted on October 10 a side-by-side comparison of space policy responses from the two campaigns. Neither offered much in the way of specifics or new initiatives, although Clinton's responses were lengthier. Clinton seems inclined to continue the Obama administration's space policy, which largely reflects a compromise between the NewSpace policy of the current administration and the preference of Congress to protect OldSpace pork for their districts and states.
The Clinton campaign's response stated:
Mars is a consensus horizon goal, though to send humans safely, we still need to advance the technologies required to mitigate the effects of long-duration, deep-space flight.
The Trump campaign said nothing about Mars, instead proposing “a comprehensive review of our plans for space, and will work with Congress to set both priorities and mission.”
NASA is much more than a deep-space human exploration program. The Clinton campaign acknowledges that, discussing both civilian and military space activities, robotic exploration, investment in innovation, studying climate change, and public-private partnerships.
But no new initiatives are proposed. No grand vision is offered.
Hillary Clinton with President Bill Clinton in the Launch Control Center for the STS-95 Shuttle launch on October 29, 1998. The First Couple attended because former astronaut and senator John Glenn was on the flight.
One significant difference between the two candidates has been their perspectives on the female gender, and their differences extend to the space program as well.
Clinton often tells a story about how as a child she wrote NASA asking how she could become an astronaut. She claims to have received a reply from NASA telling her there would be no women astronauts. Subsequent research by the Washington Post verified such letters were sent by NASA during the period.
A President Hillary Clinton undoubtedly would be more vocal in opening opportunities for females, not just in the government but in the nation as a whole.
We might even see the first female NASA Administrator.
President George W. Bush appointed the first female deputy administrator, Shana Dale, in 2005.
She was succeeded by Obama appointee Lori Garver, who originally had been the space policy advisor to Clinton's 2008 campaign. Once Clinton lost the nomination to Senator Barack Obama, Garver moved over to the Obama campaign to refine what up to then had been a largely absent, much less coherent, space policy.
Garver's four years were controversial, as she was a vocal proponent of NewSpace, a term generally describing a movement to open space to the private sector through incentives, partnerships and technology transfers.
Garver left in 2013, as Obama's second term began, and was replaced by Dava Newman, an aerospace biomedical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Newman might be a less controversial choice than Garver, whose NewSpace evangelism earned her enemies on Capitol Hill. Freed of political correctness, Garver has spoken her mind since leaving NASA, saying that the agency has a “socialist” approach to space exploration. Garver said in November 2015:
“NASA was a very symbol of capitalist ideals when we went to the Moon and beat the Russians,” she said. “Now what we’re working with is more of a socialist plan for space exploration, which is just anathema to what this country should be doing. Don’t try to compete with the private sector. Incentivize them by driving technologies that will be necessary for us as we explore further.”
It shouldn't be an automatic assumption that women in the space business will line up behind Clinton.
First Lady Hillary Clinton names Eileen Collins the first female Space Shuttle commander on March 5, 1998. Original video source: C-SPAN.
Former astronaut Eileen Collins addresses the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016.
Eileen Collins, the first female Space Shuttle commander, spoke at the Republican National Convention on July 20. She did not specifically endorse Trump, but there were reports that she had deleted a line from the campaign-approved speech doing so. Her speech was riddled with falsehoods about the Obama administration's space policy, and chose to overlook the NewSpace movement.
Collins, ironically, was feted by First Lady Clinton on March 5, 1998 during a ceremony at the White House. The two later went to Dunbar High School in Washington, DC. Ms. Clinton was quoted as saying, “I hope there will be girls in the audience who look up at her and say, that's what I want to do.” Clinton that day repeated the story about her childhood letter to NASA.
During the 2008 general election campaign, President Obama made a campaign stop in Titusville to discuss space policy. During his administration, he twice visited Kennedy Space Center, once in 2010 to deliver a controversial space policy proposal, the second in 2011 to watch a Shuttle launch that was scrubbed. These visits found him little political support in Brevard County, offering more evidence that there's no upside to Clinton spending time here.
A President doesn't have to come to Kennedy Space Center to discuss space policy. John F. Kennedy delivered his famous space policy speech at Rice University in September 1962. George H.W. Bush proposed a Mars program on the steps of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC on July 20, 1989, the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. That went nowhere, as have most grandiose space proposals since the Apollo era.
Hillary Clinton's general neglect of any specific space policy is realpolitik. Coming here now, or any time in the next four years, won't affect her election or her political power within the Beltway. Space advocates, justifiably, want to hear more. I wish we would hear more.
But space is, and has been since the late 1960s, a low priority for the federal government. A half-century of wishing otherwise doesn't make it so.
In her inaugural address, Clinton could propose doubling NASA's budget, but it wouldn't matter, because Congress determines NASA's budget and would probably ignore her request. NASA's bureaucracy hasn't shown it can wisely spend money. Any spending increase, in my opinion, should go to NewSpace.
Our NewSpace economy is almost at the point where it's beyond the crawling stage and able to walk on its own. NewSpace companies are contracting with one another to offer services, in low Earth orbit and beyond.
If the new administration is to have any space policy, I'd suggest it would be to get out of the way and let the NewSpace economy lead.