Jeb Bush Reiterates Need for Aspirational Goals As Challenger Anniversary Approaches

Jeb Bush Reiterates Need for Aspirational Goals As Challenger Anniversary Approaches

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said yesterday in New Hampshire that NASA has “lost its purpose” and needs an “aspirational purpose.”   Although he did not reference it, his comments come just before the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger accident that claimed the life of New Hampshire Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe.

As reported by CBS News, Bush made an unannounced campaign stop at a Portsmouth, NH diner and engaged in conversations on a broad range of issues with local patrons.  A 13-year old boy asked about the space program and the boy’s mother said she was “upset that NASA has kind of like — closed.”  Bush replied that it was not closed, “but it’s lost its purpose.  There is no big aspirational purpose.”   CBS said he then began talking about Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, concluding by saying “I’m not obsessive about space but I think it’s part of our identity as a culture.”

The comments are similar to those Bush made at a New Hampshire campaign event in October 2015.  In that case, he was speaking at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH and praised lunar colonization ideas expounded in 2012 by then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.   Bush called Gingrich’s ideas “cool” and argued “what’s wrong about having big, lofty aspirational goals?”

The Discovery Center is named after two New Hampshire astronauts:  Alan Shepard, the first American in space who later walked on the Moon; and Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe.

McAuliffe perished in the 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy along with five NASA astronauts (Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Judy Resnik, Ron McNair, and Ellison Onizuka) and Hughes Aircraft payload specialist Greg Jarvis.  The 30th anniversary of that tragedy occurs on January 28 — three weeks from today.

Neither the Challenger nor the 2003 Columbia space shuttle tragedies deterred the United States from having bold human spaceflight goals.   Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, announced plans to return astronauts to the Moon and someday go to Mars in 1989, three years after Challenger, and Bush’s brother, President George W. Bush, announced similar plans in the aftermath of Columbia.

Achieving such goals within the resources the United States is willing to allocate for them has been the problem.  Bush did not indicate in October or yesterday whether he believes the government space program needs more funding, but in a July interview he said he was a “space guy” who would increase NASA funding.  His enthusiasm for Musk and Bezos indicates, at a minimum, that he appreciates entrepreneurial private sector efforts and in October he stated that NASA should “partner with the dreamers” in the private sector.


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