Sat. Jan 28th, 2023
President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House after signing the NASA transition authorization bill.
Enlarge / President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House after signing the NASA transition authorization bill.

Jim Lo Scalzo – Pool/Getty Images

Prior to Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump had made only a few casual references to space during the first two months of his administration. That changed during a signing ceremony for S.422, NASA’s first act of authorization in seven years. “Today we are taking the first steps toward a bold and bright new future for American spaceflight,” said the president.

For all the pomp and circumstance that accompanies its passage, the Act of Authorization appears to be a relatively unimportant document. It keeps NASA more or less on the same course as it has been, providing funding for major programs like the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, but not combining the money with a clear mandate (and the extra funding) needed to use these vehicles for a meaningful reconnaissance program.

What stood out about Tuesday’s signing ceremony, however, was the glimpse it provided of Trump’s view of the space program. Twice, during the short ceremony, he mentioned jobs. Reading prepared remarks, he noted that the bill addresses NASA’s goals for human exploration, space science and technology. “We support jobs,” the president added. “It’s also about jobs.”

Later, when he thanked Congress for passing the authorization bill, he praised states’ senators and representatives such as Texas, Florida and Alabama that house important NASA centers. “They have done the country and their communities a great service,” Trump said of those in attendance. “It’s a lot of jobs, and these are great jobs,” he added.

Repair our (terrestrial) highways

One of NASA’s biggest criticisms in recent decades is that the agency has become a “jobs program,” in that Congress is more interested in preserving jobs for officials and contractors in Representatives’ home states and districts than in the furthering the country’s reconnaissance goals. This seemed especially evident with the Space Launch System rocket, which was designed in part by Congress to keep major aerospace contractors working on building rockets after the space shuttle program ended.

During the signing ceremony, Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) seemed to confirm this. “This means a lot to the nation’s space program and it means a lot to the state of Texas,” Cruz said. At the time, Rubio joked that the bill meant Florida would continue to do more space work than Texas.

Part of a president’s role, when it comes to US spaceflight policy, is to rise above parochial congressional politics to protect the country’s overall interests in space. But Trump gave little indication that he is interested in this — or that he is interested in space at all. After Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) said the bill would allow Trump to become the “father of the interplanetary highway system” because of the big rocket NASA is building, the president seemed unimpressed with the potential to humans to Mars or robotic probes to Europe.

“Well, that sounds exciting,” Trump countered. “But first we want to fix our highways. We’re going to fix our highways.”

By akfire1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.