What does the future hold for NASA? Depends on the next president.
Most of the remaining presidential candidates have come out in support of the US space program, but they have different ideas about what NASA's focus should be, and who should pay for it.
Space is having a resurgence. Companies such as SpaceX and Orbital ATK are flying supplies to the International Space Station on their own rockets.
SpaceX and Boeing are working on capabilities to ferry astronauts to the space station in the next year or so. SpaceX has even set its sights on getting humans to Mars in the next decade.
NASA just sent an astronaut to space for an uninterrupted year for the first time ever, gathering unprecedented learnings about long-term exposure to microgravity to prepare for a future, manned mission to Mars. Space exploration has generated so much excitement among the public, upwards of 18,300 people applied for just eight to 14 astronaut spots last month, an amount nearly three times the number of applications NASA received in 2012 for the most recent astronaut class, and one that shatters the previous record of 8,000 in 1978.
But it is going to take many times NASA’s current budget of $19.3 billion to get humans to Mars. The Obama administration has recently trimmed its request of the US Congress for NASA funding by 1.5 percent for fiscal year 2017, reducing spending on deep-space exploration by $800 million, reported The Wall Street Journal.
As the country prepares for a new president next year, one whose administration will help decide the fate of the country’s space program, what could that future look like?
Here is a brief overview of where the remaining presidential candidates stand on space.
Even though NASA told her that women couldn’t be astronauts in response to a letter she wrote to the agency when she was 13, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has said, “I really, really do support the space program."
The Democratic presidential hopeful has said that she would like to see the country continue to explore space, according to SpacePolicyOnline.com, and to continue funding Earth science.
"I think [the space program] is a good investment, so on my list of things that I want our country to invest in, in terms of research and innovation and ... basic science, exploring space, exploring our oceans, exploring our genome. We're at the brink of all kinds of new information. Let's not back off now!" Mrs. Clinton said at a at a town hall meeting in Dover, N.H. in July.
Republican Florida Senator Ted Cruz is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness. Senator Cruz supports NASA and its plans for deep-space exploration, calling it “an incredibly high priority.”
He has criticized the Obama administration for devoting too many of the agency’s resources away from space exploration for the study of Earth science, particularly global warming.
“One of the real problems with the Obama administration is they’ve de-emphasized space exploration. They’ve de-emphasized the hard sciences, and they’re diverting more and more of the NASA budget to political agendas like studying global warming instead of fulfilling the core mission of NASA,” said Cruz at a South Carolina campaign stop in August, according to NASASpaceflight.com.
“So I have been pressing to focus on what NASA was created to do – which is space exploration. And that’s gonna remain a real priority – to focus on the heart of the agency and not on political distractions,” he said.
The presidential hopeful was a key author on a bill to promote commercial space flight and asteroid mining.
Even though the Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has voted to cut NASA’s budget, he said during a May 2015 Reddit Q&A that he supports increasing funding for the agency.
“Not only because of the excitement of space exploration, but because of all the additional side benefits we receive from research in that area,” said Senator Sanders.
Regarding his voting record, Sanders said that sometimes, “one is put in a position of having to make very very difficult choices about whether you vote to provide food for hungry kids or health care for people who have none and other programs.”
In response to a question from a 10-year-old boy about the Republican candidate’s views on space, Donald Trump pointed out that the country has competing priorities.
“Right now, we have bigger problems – you understand that? We've got to fix our potholes. You know, we don't exactly have a lot of money," Mr. Trump said at a November event in Manchester, N.H., according to The Washington Post.
The businessman has said that it might be better for private companies to focus on space exploration instead of NASA, but also that he would not cut the space program, according to reporting by Jeff Foust, senior writer for SpaceNews.
Trump has supported a plan to send humans to Mars, but not at the expense of other priorities.
“Honestly, I think it's wonderful. I want to rebuild our infrastructure first. OK? I think it's wonderful," he said at an August campaign event in Hampton, N.H.
Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio does not appear to have made statements about space and NASA to date, although he has won the endorsements of former space shuttle commanders Steve Oswald and William F. Readdy, as well as that of Eugene Cernan, the last human to walk on the moon.