What a Trump Presidency Means for Space Exploration
NASA will unlikely be a top priority for the newly elected president, but there will be a prioritization of deep space exploration and increased investment in the private sector.
The U.S. space program isn't at the top of President-elect Donald Trump's housekeeping list for the country, but it won't be left out of the upcoming overhaul ushered in by the Republican's victory over heavily favored Hillary Clinton to serve as chief executive of the United States.
"Trump understands, as Reagan did before him, that without a strong economy, there can be no strong space program," campaign advisors Bob Walker, a former U.S. congressman, and University of California-Irvine professor Peter Navarro wrote in a column published in Space News last month.
Trump intends to purchase more government space services, particularly for military projects, from the private sector, a policy that bodes well for companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Paul Allen's Stratolaunch Systems, as well as for more established firms, such as United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK.
"An increased reliance on the private sector will be a cornerstone of Trump space policy," the advisors wrote, adding that the administration would be on the lookout for "private sector solutions that do not necessarily require government investment."
Relations with SpaceX might be off to an uncomfortable start. SpaceX's head of communications, Dex Torricke-Barton wrote on his personal Twitter account in response to Trump's win: "The horror. The horror," and "Earth has fallen."
In an interview on NBC News, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday that mainstream media, which were united in predicting a Clinton win, failed to see the upsurge of support for the brash, billionaire businessman who was making his first run for public office.
The first to call the race was DrudgeReport.com, which shortly after midnight EST posted the banner headline: "Trump Wins in Historic Uprising." Statistician Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com had already reported a shift in computer models calculating election results.
"Ours was not a campaign but rather an incredible and great movement, made up of millions of hard-working men and women," Trump said in his first speech as president-elect.
NASA, NOAA and military space programs will be addressed at some point after Trump assumes office on Jan. 20.
"I don't expect NASA to be the top 10 priority of a new administration. At least I hope not. There are too many more critical issues to address as a nation," Dale Ketchum, chief strategist with the Space Florida economic development agency, wrote in an email to Seeker.
"But we should be in the top 25, so I expect to see a new NASA administrator and center directors within the year. Who they are and their marching orders from the Oval Office will be what most of us will be focused on," Ketchum said.
"The biggest upside to the election," he added, "is the likelihood that all federal agencies, not just NASA, will be subject to a more aggressive evaluation of what they're doing and how. It can be healthy for all organizations, not just government, to be subject to course corrections episodically. The consequences of that review will be what's important, and that's still very TBD."
NASA's annual budget is about $19 billion.
"I think we can all be confident that the new Trump Administration and future administrations after that will continue the visionary course on which President Barack Obama has set us," NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden wrote in a memo to employees on Wednesday, NASAWatch.com reported.
According to Walker, the president intends to revive the National Space Council, an interagency space policy steering group that is chaired by the vice president.
The council was last active during the administration of George H.W. Bush, who served as president from 1989 to 1993.
"Subsequent presidents have chosen not to staff or fund the Council, although it still exists in law," wrote Marcia Smith, editor of SpacePolicyOnline.com.
"Opinions in the space policy community about the value of such a Council run the gamut," Smith wrote. "Opponents argue it is just one more White House entity that can say 'no' to any idea, but without the clout to say 'yes' and make something happen.
"Supporters insist that a top-level mechanism is needed not only to effectively coordinate government civil and national security space programs, but to bring in the commercial sector and develop a holistic approach to space," she said.
Currently, the White House National Security Council oversees national security space policy. Civil space policy is overseen by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, with input from the White House Office of Management and Budget, Smith added.
Walker told the Federal Aviation Administration's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee on Oct 26 that Trump's space plan can be "described in four terms: It's visionary, it's disruptive, it's coordinating and it's resilient," reported Space News The goals include human exploration of the solar system by the end of the century and a shift in NASA budgets to deep space exploration rather than Earth science and climate research, the paper reported.