NASA’s Course Set to Change
A more definite picture of NASA’s future direction is emerging.
Advocates of space exploration were gratified to note the inclusion of space research in the President’s inaugural address (“We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space.”) In a reversal of the role Obama mandated the space agency to play, the new Administration is emphasizing manned space flight and the pursuit of major goals for human exploration beyond low earth orbit, in the near term, using American spacecraft.
The Morning Ticker recently noted:
The incredible upset win of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton could have huge ramifications for NASA. Donald Trump may send America back to the moon. That’s what some people are saying now that he and the Republican Party has swept into power, including Newt Gingrich, who himself loves the idea of a colony on the moon. The transition from an Obama presidency to a Trump administration is certain to be a jarring one for NASA. The agency can expect a significant revamp in its mission, focusing much less on climate change and more on space missions, including possibly our first trip to the moon in decades. Analysts suggest that the administration may push for a lunar landing as a stepping stone on the way to Mars. It would also be a very public way to reassert the U.S.’s mastery of the space domain and our closest neighbor.
According to the Daily Caller, SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk “made two trips to Trump Tower during the transition period and discussed how NASA could be primed to send astronauts to Mars using public-private
partnerships, according to The Washington Post. Trump also met…with space program historian Douglas Brinkley about the Apollo program, which took NASA to the moon during the 1960s…Another billionaire space entrepreneur, Robert Bigelow, thinks that Trump could potentially double NASA’s budget. There is some similarity in that both Trump and his predecessor favor an expanded role for private sector technology.
A 2015 study by the National Defense University notes that “U.S. government policies over the past decade have focused on shifting space activities from the public sector to the more efficient private sector…Government policies have encouraged and supported the rise of new entrants and entrepreneurs into the space launch and broader space transportation market…overcoming the hurdles of high upfront capital investment costs. These new entrants are implementing process and pursuing product innovation in the rocket and on-rocket, orbital and suborbital launch markets…”
However, the practical application of Obama’s use of the private sector was more in the nature of a replacement for NASA-developed space technology, at least in the immediate future., and particularly in the realm of manned space flight. Trump’s outlook is concentrated on having the private sector complement an ambitious and timely human space program.
The prior president mandated NASA’s attention be directed to efforts intended to assist a climate change agenda. The new Administration appears prepared to return the space agency to its original function. The time table for significant manned space accomplishments appears set to move faster under the Trump Administration.
Trump has long believed that NASA’s emphasis on climate change during the Obama Administration was a misuse of the agency’s budget. He also doubts the veracity of some of the data produced by various sources used to justify funding within the space agency for that purpose. In a criticism of NASA data, a Real Science review noted that in 1989:
…scientists from the United States Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that a study of temperature readings for the contiguous 48 states over the last century showed there had been no significant change in average temperature over that period…But in the year 2000, NASA and NOAA altered the historical US temperature record, which now shows that there was about one degree centigrade US warming during the century before 1989…The altering of Icelandic data by NASA was particularly troubling, because the cooling from 1940 to 1980 was a well known and difficult historical period in Iceland. NASA erased Iceland’s history, without even the courtesy to contact Iceland’s experts…Additionally, we know that there was tremendous warming in the Arctic prior to the 1940s, which Hansen has erased from the historical record in Iceland, Greenland and elsewhere.
Originally published on the New York Analysis of Policy and Government.