Mike Pence Trots Out Three Retrograde Ideas About Space

Is space great again yet?

NASA HQ Flickr

Vice President Mike Pence went to Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday to take a tour of the historic grounds from which are home to almost 50 years of groundbreaking history. Pence took time from his tour to deliver a half-hour speech designed to detail how the White House plans to continue making history from KSC, but sandwiched around the extremely bad metaphors, the vice president spent an absurd amount of time not detailing future plans for NASA and federal space policy, but instead paradoxically harkening back to old notions of American space exploration which feel more antiquated these days.

Nowhere was this more apparent than when Pence told the audience, “we did win the race to the moon,” as if he were rebutting claims that said otherwise. His tone wielded a strange mix of defensiveness and nostalgia, and it fit snugly into a larger theme that he wanted to see America operate almost monopolistically when it came to space.

Under that umbrella, Pence emphasized three different ideas which seem to strongly guide how he — as the new head of the resurrected National Space Council — and the President will seek to pivot NASA over the next four, possibly eight years.

We’re Going Back to the Moon?

Trump and Pence alike have made repeated statements the administration would like to see America go back to the moon, but with the backdrop of KSC and the historic launchpad [from which the Apollo missions were launched] sitting not too far away, Pence was given the best stage possible to explicitly call for a trip back to the moon. And he did not waste that opportunity on Thursday.

“Here, from this bridge to space, our nation will return to the moon and we will put American boots on the face of Mars,” he told the audience.

He doubled down later: “We will return our nation to the moon. We will go to Mars, and we will go still farther to places that only our children’s children can imagine.”

There are strong reasons to suggest going back to the moon is a poor strategy, and so far the White House has yet to call for NASA to explicitly work on sending U.S. astronauts back to the moon, but given how often Pence and Trump seem to talk about the moon, it wouldn’t be a great surprise if they began mandating that NASA work on a new crewed lunar mission program.

The White House is Serious About Using Space to Bolster National Security

“We will continue to make the investments and presence in space to ensure the security of the American people,” Pence said on Thursday. “Space is vital to our national security…I can assure you, under President Donald Trump, American security will be as dominant in the heavens as we are here on Earth.”

This is far from the first time Pence or Trump have talked about increasing the presence of military assets in space. Trump most openly (and awkwardly) did so during a NASA TV interview with astronauts aboard the International Space Station, explicitly saying, “there’s tremendous military application in space.”

Members of the new NSC will include representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, intelligence agencies, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Trump’s National Security Advisor, and military personnel. In all likelihood, they will have a very open ear in Pence to discuss how low Earth orbit and other realms of space can be used under the directive of “national security.”

Donald Trump Will Make Space Great Again

Perhaps the single biggest takeaway from Pence’s speech was that Donald Trump was going usher in a new, prestigious era of American space exploration. I mean, Pence only said that about 69 times.

Some of those quotes:

“Under President Donald Trump America will lead in space once again.”
“The American space program has a champion in the President of the United States.”
“[Under Trump] we will achieve more in space than we ever thought possible.”
“Under President Donald Trump’s leadership, we will reorient America’s space program toward human space exploration and discovery for the benefit of the American people and all of the world.”
“Under President Trump’s leadership, we will renew the American spirit itself.”

Nauseous? That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

You can almost certainly expect Trump to take credit for any major accomplishments by NASA over the course of this administration’s term. Why is that a “retrograde” idea? Because it blatantly ignores the incredible load carried by America’s international partners, the private industry, and the academic world. NASA no longer dominates American spaceflight single-handedly as it once did, and to suggest that Trump is the singular force that can improve that policy is a decades-old perspective.

Donald Trump can certainly help shape U.S. space policy for the better, but he is far from the only reason for any successes that might be achieved. 

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