If Donald Trump succeeds in his presidential ambitions, he will arrive at a time when space travel is entering a new and exciting stage — and he’ll need a plan.
The accomplishment of Elon Musk and SpaceX, landing stage one of a two-stage rocket for the first time in history, should remind the United States that reaching Mars is not only possible, but necessary.
When Newt Gingrich said “Moonbase” in 2012, the entire world laughed at him. But Gingrich was right.
We’ve had several really fantastic years in space. We’ve landed on comets (though fashion-obsessed feminists wanted to focus on the astrophysicists’ shirts instead), taken new photographs of Pluto, and tooled around Mars in a high-tech, selfie-taking SUV.
Yet NASA’s funding remains at the level it was in 1960. From a high point in 1966, it’s been cut to almost a tenth of its size. The agency, traditionally tasked with exploring and understanding space, is one of the most underfunded departments of the federal government. We spend more on cat food than we do on NASA.
The great strides of 60s and 70s were fueled by national pride and competition. That pride landed the first man landed on the moon and fuelled an unprecedented period of technological development. In the decades following, NASA has become aimless, focusing too much on short-term projects that do little to advance humanity’s understanding of the universe. The last manned moon expedition was in 1972.
The exploration of space does not serve as a mere ego boost. It also serves to inspire a nation to achieve its best and provides us with a opportunities and understanding in the future.
We’re currently dangerously lagging behind in space travel. With the discontinuation of the Space Shuttle, we currently don’t have a vehicle to launch humans into space regularly. The Russians, by contrast, still have their ever-reliable Soyuz spacecraft, and are already working on a new and improved version.
The moon landing was not only a gigantic achievement for the US, but an essential step in our advancement as a civilization, an apolitical goal that all of us can get behind. Hell, you’re probably reading this right now on a device the space race created.
That’s to say nothing of the immense lift in morale caused by the nation’s spacefaring prowess. Space shuttles and Ronald Reagan. Was there ever anything more American? NASA proved its worth over and over, but it seems like few now care.
CAT scanners, microchips, LEDs, smoke detectors, solar collectors, water filters (not the alex jones kind), sports equipment, satellites greatly improved mankind’s living conditions.
Once upon a time, NASA seemed to show us that there were no limits to human, specifically American, ingenuity. We looked to the stars and wondered how to travel to them, and an entire nation came together around the TV screen to watch this take place. It was one of the most classic, and iconic, symbols of American greatness.
At the same time, NASA’s achievements were an important source of national pride and political unity. Apollo 11 landed on the Moon under Lyndon B. Johnson, while the Space Shuttles took off under Reagan. Our parents didn’t watch the launch of these awe-inspiring missions as Republicans or Democrats; they watched them as Americans. It was one of the clearest pieces of evidence that America was in fact the leader of the free world.
But those heady days seem to be slipping. Parts of NASA are now being privatized, on the shaky assumption that the private sector will be able to fill the gap. Inevitably, this has led to a reliance on countries that still take their national space programs seriously, like Russia.
Under Obama, the role of NASA has changed as well. The administration is using it as a diplomatic body as much as a scientific one, with Obama instructing NASA to tell Muslims and Islamic states how great they are, because apparently the organisation that once got us to the moon should now be looking after the Muslim world’s paper-thin skin.
Michael Griffin, the former head of NASA, said the use of the agency as a tool for Muslim outreach was a “perversion” of their mission, adding that “No President has thought to take NASA’s focus off anything but space exploration until now.”
The politicisation of NASA doesn’t end there. Under Obama, the agency has been accused of changing climate data in support of global warming theories by tampering with temperature data.
In such a tense political atmosphere, it’s difficult to imagine NASA launching a mission as complicated as the Hubble Space Telescope, which took years to get right, needed multiple costly shuttle flights to fix it, but ultimately advanced Human understanding of deep space more than anything before or after.
If the Obama-era NASA were the American Government of 1803, the Lewis and Clark expedition which explored much of the continent wouldn’t have happened. They’d have spent the time and budget telling the French they were great Americans.
Humiliatingly, it’s now the Russians have to pick up the slack, costing NASA $490 million to buy rides to the ISS. If a man fell into a coma in the late 60s and woke up today he’d think we not only lost the space race, but the cold war too.
That’s why some people are suggesting that NASA should either be defunded altogether, or, better yet, refunded properly but have its original objectives reinstated and the “diversity,” Muslim outreach and climate change crap scrubbed from its mission statement.
Human history is littered with examples of extraordinary human achievements that stand the test of time. Our species has built pyramids, cathedrals, and colosseums; vast monuments that still have the power to awe us. These displays of unity, strength, and innovation are the legacies of human civilization that continue to inspire us today.
NASA has achieved similar feats of ingenuity, and the photos of the moon landing and the space shuttles have well-earned places in the history books. But there is so much more that America could write into the history of space exploration, if our politicians could find the courage.
There is, of course, one politician with the will, imagination and resolve to restore NASA’s standing.
We have some goals that NASA should be focusing on and we should fund them — such as landing a man on Mars and establishing a stable colony on the Moon for scientific research, to learn how we can exploit its resources.
Whichever party we vote for, we should want America to win the race to Mars’s natural resources and not simply hand over the vast profits and strategic power to Elon Musk by handing him hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.
There are also urgent, pragmatic issues that should motivate a greater focus on NASA. Asteroids constantly breeze past us. Solar flares disrupt our communications. In order to react accordingly, we need to understand what’s happening around us — yet we still don’t. The first duty of government is to protect its citizens, and NASA is an important component in that battle.
There are a lot of things we could do, be it major investments in private space (with appropriate caveats and partnership agreements), additional scholarships, education for STEM degrees… or a solid-gold rocket with “TRUMP” on the side.
Donald Trump is one of the few candidates who has shown willingness to embrace big ideas — even when they attract the ire of the chattering classes. I’d wager anyone who is contemplating a vote for him would have their resolve strengthened by a commitment from the Donald to restore NASA’s standing, tear away the ludicrous Muslim hurt feelings project, and get America back in the space race.