Trump Praises NASA, But Dodges Funding Questions in Aerospace America Q&A
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump thinks NASA is one of the most important government agencies and wants it to stretch the envelope of space exploration, but is not willing to commit to any funding level. He responded to questions posed by Aerospace America and published in its May issue.
Trump's win in the Indiana primary tonight, and Sen. Ted Cruz's subsequent withdrawal from the race, make it ever more likely that he will be the Republican nominee for President. He has said little publicly about the space program so far. His answers to Aerospace America provide the best clues to his thoughts on NASA's future under a Trump presidency.
Aerospace America is the monthly magazine of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). It recently sent questions about space and aviation to the five remaining presidential candidates. Trump and Bernie Sanders were the only two to answer the questions. John Kasich's campaign sent an essay written by former Congressman Bob Walker, now a lobbyist who is advising the Kasich campaign. No response was received by the magazine's press time from Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz.
In brief, Trump said that NASA "has been one of the most important agencies in the United States government for most of my lifetime" and he wants it to remain that way. But in response to a question about whether the United States is spending the proper amount of money on NASA, he demurred: "I am not sure that is the right question. What we spend on NASA should be appropriate for what we are asking them to do. ... Our first priority is to restore a strong economic base to this country. Then, we can have a discussion about spending." He similarly deflected a question about whether sending humans to Mars should continue to be a goal. He strongly supported government-private sector partnerships in space.
His answers to Aerospace America's questions align with comments he made during a campaign stop in Manchester, NH in November. There he offered what has become perhaps his most memorable remark about space exploration, that it is important, "but we have to fix our potholes."
Sanders also won in Indiana tonight, but the outcome of the Democratic primary contest between him and Clinton remains up in the air, although most pundits anticipate that Clinton ultimately will be the Democratic nominee. In his answers to Aerospace America, Sanders was enthusiastic about NASA, particularly for the technological advances stemming from investments in the space program. Like Trump, he deflected the question about spending for NASA because it is a "zero sum game" where allocating money for one program means taking it from another. He supports private sector space activities, but cautioned that they raise safety and national security issues and went on at some length about the importance of government R&D spending generally, not just for space.
Although Clinton did not respond to Aerospace America, she has made it clear in other venues that she is a space enthusiast.
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