Jeb Bush Wants Aspirational Goals for NASA

Jeb Bush Wants Aspirational Goals for NASA

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush enthusiastically called for NASA to pursue aspirational goals in concert with the private sector during a campaign Town Hall meeting yesterday.  The former Florida governor has previously expressed his support for the space program.

Bush spoke at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH, which honors two New Hampshire astronauts — Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and Christa McAuliffe, the Teacher in Space who perished in the space shuttle Challenger accident in 1986.

Asked what he would do as President to get Congress to allocate more money to NASA to restore U.S. leadership in space, Bush said “I think we need to be more aspirational again.”   He criticized the Obama Administration for making the United States reliant on Russia for launching people into space and stressed the need for an independent means for getting crews to the space station.  

He did not lay out his own proposals for space exploration, but said he considered the lunar colonization plans espoused by Newt Gingrich in the 2012 presidential campaign to be “pretty cool.”  Gingrich was widely panned at the time.  Bush defended those ideas, however.  “What’s wrong about having big, lofty aspirational goals,” he asked, insisting that the “benefits … are far more than people realize.”

On the other hand, he added that “NASA should not try to be all things to all people” and “partner with the dreamers in the private sector, Elon Musk and others” who can bring “intensity and creativity to the process.”

The meeting was taped by C-SPAN and this exchange begins at about 1:01:25.

Bush did not specifically refer to the Obama Administration ending President George W. Bush’s Constellation program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020.  Instead he referred to it cancelling an expendable launch vehicle program in which the State of Florida invested $50 million that he thought was either for Northrop Grumman or Lockheed Martin to build and design an interim replacement for the space shuttle that would lead to a new generation of launch vehicles that would dramatically reduce the cost of launch.  He said the Obama Administration cancelled that program in its first year, creating U.S. dependence on Russia for access to the space station.  He may have been referring to the Ares I upper stage contract won by a Boeing-Northrop Grumman team, beating out an ATK-Lockeed Martin team.  ATK was the prime contractor for the Ares I program overall.  Ares I would have been used to send crews to the space station on Orion capsules, with a larger version, Ares V, sending them to the Moon.

It was the Bush Administration that decided to terminate the space shuttle before a replacement for low Earth orbit operations (Ares I with an Orion capsule) was ready.  That is what originally created U.S. dependency on Russia for what was expected to be a four-year gap (2010-2014).  The Obama Administration adopted the Bush decision to terminate the space shuttle, although it added two more shuttle flights so the program extended through mid-2011.  It replaced Ares I/Orion with the commercial crew program, intending to have commercial vehicles ready by 2015, also a four-year gap.  That gap has grown to at least six years.   The Obama Administration blames congressional underfunding of the commercial crew program for the delay.

As last night’s event began, Bush cited the U.S.-Soviet space race at the dawn of the Space Age as lighting a fire under America that led to landing men on the Moon and “defied the imagination of everyone.”  America needs to continue doing that “whether to explore the stars or explore the brain.”

As the former Governor of Florida, home of Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, it is not surprising the Bush is more familiar with space issues than other presidential candidates.  In an earlier campaign event, he referred to himself as “a space guy.”   His campaign website does not lay out any plans or policies related to space, however.

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