Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has announced his candidacy for the presidency. He will be seeking the nomination of the Republican Party.
Cruz has already staked out a position on space policy, arguing that NASA is overspending on Earth science research at the expense of human space exploration. This is not born out by the budget numbers; Obama’s FY 2016 budget proposes $8 billion for human space exploration vs. just under $2 billion for Earth science.
But, hey, let’s not let reality get in the way of a good campaign meme. Cruz is the space exploration candidate, which he believes will inspire school kids, restore America to its former glory, and (no less vitally) keep his constituents in Texas employed indefinitely.
For conservative space supporters, Cruz’s candidacy poses a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, many of them probably agree with Cruz’s view that global warming is a gigantic international fraud cooked up by Al Gore and his fellow liberals to….I’m not really sure….I guess to destroy America’s way of life as we know it. Or something.
To the extent conservatives equate NASA’s Earth science budget with global warming research, they would be happy to see the funding cut and the program transferred to a lower profile bureaucracy like NOAA, where it would be given as little money as possible and subsumed by the agency’s weather forecasting duties. Presumably, this change would free up NASA to go explore deep space.
However, most conservative space geeks realize that NASA’s problems with deep space exploration do not result from some other part of the space agency spending a relatively small part of the budget studying the Earth within the Science Directorate. NASA can actually walk and chew gum at the same time.
Instead, they see the problem as being the Space Launch System and Orion programs that Congress insisted that NASA build to explore deep space. In their view, the programs are the epitome of a bloated government space effort that will be so expensive to build, maintain and operate that we won’t be able to do much of anything in deep space.
Cruz’s own exploration philosophy likely aligns the SLS/Orion approach, which will keep a lot of NASA folks and contractors in his home state employed for decades to come. It’s very hard to imagine him accepting the arguments of conservative NewSpacers that these programs should be cut and all those fine, hardworking Americans be put out of a job.
The senator could gain support by at least putting SLS and Orion toward something other than a visit to an asteroid. The plan has little support in Congress or in the space community at large. Perhaps a lunar COTS model — with NASA partnering with the private sector to use the moon as a stepping stone to Mars — would gain broad support.