Eileen Collins Endorses Space Program, but Not Trump

Eileen Collins Endorses Space Program, but Not Trump

Former space shuttle commander Eileen Collins spoke at the GOP presidential convention tonight arguing for a strong space program.  She did not endorse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, however, even though such an endorsement apparently was part of her prepared remarks.

Collins spoke on the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon and called for leadership similar to that of President John F. Kennedy who initiated the Apollo program. “We landed on the Moon to fulfill a leadership challenge and to explore…Nations that lead on the frontier, lead in the world.  We need that visionary leadership again. Leadership that will inspire the next generation of explorers to have that same passion.”

Her verbal remarks ended: “We need leadership [where] Americans will ask again “What’s next?’ We need leadership that will make America’s space program first again. And we need leadership that will make America great again. I want to thank all of you, thank you for what you’re doing, God bless America.”

According to a transcript of her prepared remarks provided by the GOP Convention to Syracuse University (her alma mater) and posted on the university’s website, however, the ending was supposed to be “We need leadership that will make America first again.  That leader is Donald Trump.  Thank you and God bless the United States of America.”

Thus, although she did not read the line endorsing Trump, she did use his slogan “make America great again” instead of “make America first again” as in the prepared remarks.

Collins’s decision to speak to the GOP convention sparked controversy in the Twitterverse over whether a former astronaut should be engaging in partisan politics, although as some pointed out, former astronauts John Glenn, Harrison “Jack” Schmitt and Jack Swigert actually ran for national political office.  Glenn, a Democrat, and Schmitt, a Republican, served as Senators; Swigert, a Republican, was elected to the House, but died before he could take office.  

In any case, her speech was closely watched in the space community and, as delivered, sounded familiar pro-space themes.  She did point out that the United States has been unable to launch astronauts into space since the termination of the space shuttle in 2011, exclaiming “We must do better than that,” but stayed away from attributing the shuttle’s cancellation to either political party. 

In fact, both parties were responsible.  Republican President George W. Bush made the decision in 2004 to terminate the space shuttle once construction of the International Space Station (ISS) was completed, expected in 2010.  The shuttle was still flying when Democratic President Barack Obama took office in 2009 and he chose to adopt the Bush decision rather than reverse it and continue the program.  Two shuttle flights were added during the Obama Administration extending the program to 2011 rather than 2010.  They were added to comply with congressional direction in the 2008 NASA authorization act to deliver a scientific instrument, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, and to deliver supplies and equipment that required the space shuttle’s unique cargo capacity.

Collins piloted the space shuttle twice (STS-64 and STS-84) and commanded two shuttle missions (STS-93 and STS-114, the 2005 return-to-flight mission following the 2003 space shuttle Columbia accident).  She retired from NASA in 2006.

A video about the space program preceded her speech.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) also briefly mentioned the space program during his remarks tonight, though they will be remembered mostly because he also failed to endorse Trump.  Regarding space, during a series of statements about the power of freedom, he  said that 47 years ago America put men on the Moon and “that’s the power of freedom.”  Cruz chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA and earlier in the day released a brief video highlighting the Apollo 11 anniversary.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich was also at the podium this evening and there was speculation that he might mention the anniversary because he is a strong supporter of the space program, but he did not.

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