Will Space Be A Topic at Thursday's Republican Presidential Primary Debate? – UPDATE

Will Space Be A Topic at Thursday's Republican Presidential Primary Debate? – UPDATE

UPDATE, August 7, 2015:   No space policy questions arose at the debate.

ORIGINAL STORY, August 5, 2015:  The 10 Republican presidential candidates who will debate each other in prime time on Thursday were selected by Fox News on Tuesday based on an average of five national polls.  Among them are former Florida governor Jeb Bush who recently said he is “a space guy,” and Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), both of whom made statements yesterday in support of Senate passage of a commercial space bill.  While space activities rarely rise to the fore in presidential primary debates, it did happen in 2012. Perhaps it will this time, too.

Cruz is the sponsor of S. 1297, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which passed the Senate yesterday (August 4).  Rubio of one of four cosponsors.

Following Senate passage, Cruz invoked the memory of President Ronald Reagan, saying the bill carried forward “President Reagan’s torch” by continuing to support commercial space. The original Commercial Space Launch Act was enacted during Reagan’s presidency.  In addition to provisions dealing directly with commercial space launch issues, the bill also extends the U.S. commitment to operating the International Space Station to 2024.   Reagan initiated the space station program in his 1984 State of the Union Address.  Cruz also tied the bill to his home state interests, saying that it demonstrates Texas has a “major stake in space exploration” and Johnson Space Center employees “will continue to play a vital role in the future” of human spaceflight.   Cruz has also made clear his support for space exploration during Senate hearings, arguing that exploration of space, not studying the earth, should be NASA’s priority.

One provision of S. 1297 extends through 2020 the “learning period” during which the FAA cannot issue additional commercial human spaceflight regulations.  Sometimes called a “moratorium,” it is set to expire on September 30, 2015.  The idea is that the commercial human spaceflight industry needs time to gain experience before decisions are  made on what, if any, more regulation is needed.

It may be that provision Rubio was referring to in his statement that “we need to eliminate unnecessary regulations that cost too much and make it harder for American innovators to create jobs.”  He added that the reforms in the bill will “make it easier for our innovators to return Americans to suborbital space” and “help the American space industry continue pushing further into space than ever before.”  Like Cruz and other Senators who commented on the bill, he tied it to home state interests calling it “an important win for Florida’s space exploration community.”

For his part, Bush championed an increase in NASA funding during an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader in Manchester, NH, enthusing that “I’m a space guy.”

People were allowed to send in questions to Fox News that they want the candidates to answer.  At least one is about space policy.   Michael Listner, founder and principal of Space Law & Policy Solutions in New Hampshire, tweeted today that he submitted one.

Whether or not it or any other space policy question gets asked is problematical, of course. The two-hour debate has 10 candidates and three co-moderators.  How many questions can be reasonably asked and answered in that time span with so many participants will be interesting to watch.  The debate airs on Fox News Channel and is being conducted in partnership with Facebook.  It is being held in Cleveland, Ohio.

The 10 candidates who made the cut to be in the prime time debate at 9:00 pm EDT are (in order of their standing in the polls yesterday from highest to lowest):

  • Donald Trump (billionaire businessman)
  • Jeb Bush (former Florida governor)
  • Scott Walker (current Wisconsin governor)
  • Mike Huckabee (former Arkansas governor)
  • Ben Carson (commentator and retired neurosurgeon)
  • Ted Cruz (Senator from Texas)
  • Marco Rubio (Senator from Florida)
  • Rand Paul (Senator from Kentucky)
  • Chris Christie (current New Jersey governor)
  • John Kasich (current Ohio governor)

Seven other Republican presidential candidates who ranked lower in the polls will appear in a separate one-hour debate at 5:00 pm EDT.  They are:

  • Rick Perry (former Texas governor)
  • Rick Santorum (former Senator from Pennsylvania)
  • Bobby Jindal (current Louisiana governor)
  • Carly Fiorina (former CEO of Hewlett Packard)
  • Lindsey Graham (Senator from South Carolina)
  • George Pataki (former New York governor)
  • Jim Gilmore (former Virginia governor)

During the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, candidate Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House, laid out bold goals for the space program, and he and Mitt Romney responded to questions about the space program in one of the televised debates.

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