The candidates of the US Presidential Election, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton, are keen to deploy former astronauts in their support. During July, former Shuttle commander Eileen Collins made a speech at the Republican Party Convention in which she noted her disdain over the Obama administration’s decision to cut the Project Constellation plan to explore the Moon and later Mars. Likewise, she criticised the fact the US was no longer launching its own citizens and has to rely on Russia to provide it with taxi rides, although the Republican Party officially remains in support NASA’s commercialisation plan for Low Earth Orbit human space transportation.
The inference here is that Space Shuttle operations were stopped too soon.
The problem, of course, was at the time that there was no money. Actually, it was Republican President George W. Bush who pulled the plug on the costly-to-run Space Shuttle. Somewhat bizarrely, and probably to hide the true cost saving reason, it was publicised as being cancelled for “safety reasons”. Actually, as most space engineers will tell you, experienced older generation space launch systems are normally much safer than new technology – well, at least, initially.
There is no word yet about whether Trump will put any more money into space exploration or NASA if he gets elected. Previously on his campaign Trump noted that he wanted to fix the infrastructure on Earth before he concerned himself with space.
Meanwhile, over at the Democratic Party convention, former astronaut Mark Kelly is made speech, supported by his wife, the former Democrat member of Congress, Gabrielle Giffords, who still has speech difficulties due to some brain damage incurred during an attempted assassination. In his speech, Kelly did not talk specifics about the US space programme but mentioned his time as a US Navy pilot and astronaut. “At war and in space, I saw American leadership on display. But I was always frustrated to return to a country that struggles to address some of our biggest problems here at home.” he said.
It is presumed that the Clinton administration, should there be one, will want to concentrate on domestic issues ahead of the space programme. That is, it will carry on with the current NASA plan: a very slow manned exploration project involving the completion of the SLS heavy lift version at least up to Block 1b level while encouraging commercial launches to LEO. The administration may be forced to give up part of the plan involving bringing an asteroid back to near Earth (probably to a lunar orbit) to be used as a destination for human exploration. Instead, the mood within Congress is to return humans to the Moon first as a first stage in the project to get to Mars.