Want to get to Mars? Well, NASA needs money to do it, and the president, along with Congress, mostly calls the shots. But NASA has been consistently underfunded over the last decade, and only saw its budget restored to healthier levels in 2016, when Congress carved out $19.3 billion for the agency. With missions to Mars and Jupiter on the horizon, and ambitions of curbing US dependency on Russian launches to the ISS, NASA’s no doubt hoping that the next president keeps the money flowing.
Clinton’s personal relationship with NASA is rocky. Her anecdote about NASA denying her teenage dreams of becoming an astronaut might foster some decades-old resentment (which she constantly brings up), but Clinton’s statements on the matter suggest otherwise. In Hillary’s first presidential run in 2008, she aimed to reverse spending cuts imposed on NASA and the FAA.
At a New Hampshire Town Hall last year, Clinton reassured her commitment to the space program, saying “I really, really do support the space program.” Yep, that’s two “reallys.” She followed up with additional support for the commercial space industry, but specified that funding initial “discovery and research” is only a job for the government. She’s also committed to investigating UFOs, so...make of that what you will.
Bernie isn’t a space guy. His record on funding NASA is less-than-great, given that he’s consistently voted to decrease space exploration funding since the 1990s. In a Reddit AMA last year, Sanders defended his spotty record, reassuring readers that he generally “supports” funding NASA but had to make “very very difficult choices about whether you vote to provide food for hungry kids or health care for people who have none.”
Interestingly, both democratic candidates seem hesitant to speak at great lengths about the space program. In mid-April, a major scientific goal involving space exploration was announced in New York City, the very city where the two candidates hosting a debate later that night. But the subject of NASA or space exploration was never mentioned.
Donald Trump is all over the place on NASA and space exploration. “It is very sad to see what @BarackObama has done with NASA. He has gutted the program and made us dependent on the Russians,” he tweeted back in 2012 but has also states that he “loves what it represents.”
More recently, though, Trump’s comments on NASA suggest that he has no plans to prioritize its funding. “Right now, we have bigger problems — you understand that? We’ve got to fix our potholes,” Trump told a 10-year-old boy who asked about NASA during a town hall last year.
Trump also seems excited about the privatization of space exploration, saying during the town hall that he “likes that maybe even better” than a public space program. He also suggested that a manned mission to Mars is a lower priority than infrastructure. “Honestly, I think it’s wonderful; I want to rebuild our infrastructure first, ok? I think it’s wonderful.”
As Trump’s campaign continued to gain legitimacy with its growing delegate count, Aerospace America asked both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump 10 questions about space exploration. While Sanders was much more detailed, Trump did give some insight into what he thinks about NASA. When questioned on NASA’s budget, for example, Trump said “our first priority is to restore a strong economic base to this country. Then, we can have a discussion about spending.”
Cruz is the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, and has asserted that NASA should refocus on space exploration and shift away from its Earth Science programs, which monitor climate change.
“In 1961, President John F. Kennedy laid down a marker for space exploration that inspired a generation of Americans to reach for the stars, recognizing that the race to the heavens was nothing less than a crucial front in the battle between freedom and tyranny,” Cruz said in a statement in 2015.
“More than 50 years later, we have lost sight of that clarion call. Russia’s status as the current gatekeeper of the International Space Station could threaten our capability to explore and learn, stunting our capacity to reach new heights and share innovations with free people everywhere. The United States should work alongside our international partners, but not be dependent on them. We should once again lead the way for the world in space exploration.”
In a related note, there’s currently a petition for NASA to build a cannon that will shoot Ted Cruz into the sun.
Marco Rubio’s voting record on space contradicts the rhetoric he uses during speeches. Rubio has frequently expressed his love for NASA—which owns large million-dollar facilities in Rubio’s home state of Florida. Following NASA’s successful spacecraft visit to Pluto, Rubio said in a statement, “My hope is that many young people across this country and the world will see these images of Pluto and feel that American science, ingenuity and daring are alive and well.” But what Rubio failed to acknowledge was his support of budgets that included NASA funding cuts.
That hasn’t stopped Rubio from saying some crazy ambitious shit about space. “When people see the Orion exit the Earth’s atmosphere and re-enter once again, they’ll be reminded again of what we do in the 70s and 60s during the Apollo program, and they’ll be motivated to tackle that again in a new frontier and a new challenge, before our country,” Rubio said in a press conference at the Kennedy Space Center. “And that is placing boots on the ground, on Mars.”