What others say: Making space program great again requires leadership, vision

  • By Orlando Sentinel editorial
  • Thursday, July 13, 2017 9:29pm
  • Opinion

In a speech at Kennedy Space Center this past week, Vice President Mike Pence promised a return to the glory days of the U.S. space program. Quoting President Trump, the veep vowed that America would lead in exploration and discovery “like we’ve never led before.”

Considering the program’s storied history, those are extravagant expectations. But as President John F. Kennedy proved in 1961 when he challenged the U.S. to send a man to the moon before the end of the decade, ambitious goals can spur extraordinary accomplishments.

Making the space program great again, however, will take more than high hopes. It will take committed leadership from the Trump administration, a clear mission and sustained funding to achieve it. And while a revitalized program is in the national interest for many reasons, no state has more to gain than Florida.

Trump got off to a good start last month when he signed an order reviving the National Space Council. The council — an interagency group to coordinate civil, military and commercial space programs — was created under President Dwight Eisenhower. It oversaw the successful effort to send U.S. astronauts to the moon. It was disbanded under President Richard Nixon, revived under President George H.W. Bush, and eliminated a second time under President Bill Clinton.

The heavyweights who will make up the Space Council under Trump are a positive sign that space will be a priority in his administration. Pence will chair the group, and members will include five Cabinet secretaries, the national security adviser, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the director of national intelligence, among others. Ideally, the group will keep multiple agencies in sync, and not turn into a new layer of bureaucracy on space policy.

The administrator of NASA also will be a member of the council, but Trump has yet to name a new leader for the space agency. We’re hopeful the delay is because the White House is taking its time to find a top-flight administrator, and not because it considers the post an afterthought.

Pence’s promise that the council would strengthen the partnership between government agencies and the commercial space industry is encouraging. Private rocketeers, including SpaceX and Boeing, already are taking the lead on resuming launches of astronauts from the Space Coast. Those companies will make the U.S. space program more flexible, more innovative and more cost-effective.

But even a program with a larger role for more-efficient private players will still need enough federal resources to succeed. Stingy funding for NASA from Congress in recent years has delayed the timetable for launching U.S. astronauts on private rockets.

Trump’s first budget proposal actually calls for a 2 percent cut next year in NASA’s $19.5 billion budget. If the space program is to tackle more-ambitious goals, it will need more dollars. NASA’s current slice of the federal budget, less than half a percent, is a fraction of its 4.4 percent peak during the 1960s. A return to those funding levels is neither responsible nor realistic, but the agency will have a harder time fulfilling any long-term plans if it runs the risk of cuts year after year.

In another contrast to the Apollo era, America’s leadership in space this century has been hampered by mission drift. President George W. Bush decided in 2004 to retire space shuttles by the end of the decade so NASA could begin focusing on a return to the moon. President Barack Obama canceled the moon program and set the space agency on a new course for a rendezvous with an asteroid in the 2020s and flights to Mars in the 2030s. President Trump dropped the asteroid plan but maintained funding to continue developing a NASA rocket and capsule designed to carry astronauts into deep space.

America’s space program needs a mission that lasts beyond a single president’s term. There’s not enough time and money for a reboot every four or eight years.

Last week at KSC Pence declared, “Here from this bridge to space, our nation will return to the moon and we will put American boots on the face of Mars.” The vice president did not offer a timeline or other details. Here’s hoping the Space Council will begin filling in those blanks soon.

— The Orlando Sentinel, July 7

More in Opinion

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: All votes matter

In the beginning, only property-holding white men could vote.

Cristen San Roman. (Photo provided)
Point of View: Is management of Cook Inlet catered to special interest groups?

If these fish are so at risk, why is BOEM able to move forward with lease sale 258?

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Grateful for the hidden ‘good’

Gratitude: Noun The state of being grateful; thankfulness. The state or quality… Continue reading

Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski. (Photo provided)
Point of View: What is Homer High School about?

What I consider Homer High’s strength is that we are a place for learning.

UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell. (courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Invent your future at UAA

At UAA we’re providing the tools to help students of all ages and skills chart a new course forward.

A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Vaccination is the still best protection from COVID-19

The Alaska State Medical Association encourages you to protect yourselves and your community from preventable illness by getting recommended vaccines.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
The sad diminishment of Rep. Don Young

Young seems afraid to demand his party leader defend the dignity of the institution he loves.

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Alaska Voices: Restore our strong campaign donation limits

Without campaign spending limits, the ideal of one person, one vote is no longer really true.

The Final Redistricting Map approved for the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna area is seen on Nov. 9, 2021. (Map via akredistrict.org)
Alaska Voices: The Alaska Redistricting Board’s last-minute gerrymandering failed Alaska

Our Constitution outlines rules for a redistricting process designed to uphold public trust.

This photo shows the trans-Alaska pipeline and pump station north of Fairbanks. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
Alaska Voices: The permanent fund has been taking care of Alaskans for 45 years

It’s the largest sovereign wealth fund in the nation, the pride of Alaska and this month we celebrate its 45th anniversary.

Dr. Tom Hennessy, MD, MPH (Courtesy)
Voices of the Peninsula: Don’t take medical advice from politicians, athletes or social media

Evidence leads to consensus among medical doctors: Vaccines are the best way to prevent infection.

The Entrance to the University of Alaska Southeast. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The University of Alaska is the state’s most important resource

Together, let’s break the record for donor participation.