May 31, 2020

Trump Given False Credit For Bush- And Obama-Era Space Program

[Forbes, Getty Images]

Today the Space X Dragon “Endeavour” launched. It was the first time since 2011 that the U.S. had launched humans into space. The Commercial Crew Development Program was started during the George W. Bush administration, and was expanded through the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, approved by Congress and signed by President Obama.

Jim Bridenstine, the Administrator of NASA, was nominated by President Trump in 2017 and the Senate confirmed him in 2018 with a party-line vote, 50-49. All previous NASA administrators, with the exception of one out of twelve, have been scientists or engineers — Bridenstine is neither. He is the first elected official to head NASA, as he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Oklahoma’s First Congressional District. He was the executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium, and served on the Armed Services Committee and the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Previously he was a U.S. Navy pilot and then he was in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Bridenstine was viewed as a controversial nomination, in part, due to his previous statements regarding climate change, stating on the House floor in 2013 that global temperatures had “stopped rising 10 years ago.” However, in May 2018 he became the only Trump administration official to endorse the federal government’s National Climate Assessment findings.

Bridenstine gave a speech after the launch where the focus was put on the accomplishments of Trump, and the previous administrations’ roles in this mission were never mentioned. Bridenstine made a point to mention that there were layoffs at NASA in 2010, a possible jab at the Obama administration. The reason for the layoffs was that the space shuttle missions were wrapping up. However, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, signed by President Obama, as you read above, expanded the crew development program. All contracts for today’s mission, including SpaceX’s, were completed during the Obama administration.  SpaceX’s contract for this mission was awarded in 2014. Trump and Pence also spoke at the event.  Trump falsely claimed that Kennedy Space Center was going to be shut down four years ago. described Trump’s address after the launch as something that “sounded like a campaign speech.” Peter Baker of The New York Times wrote, “There seems to be little doubt that the moment will make it into a Trump campaign ad soon enough.”

COTS was created with four different capabilities that commercial companies could pursue: external cargo delivery and disposal, internal cargo delivery and disposal, internal cargo delivery and return, and crew transportation.
Credits: NASA

Later, Bridenstine gave an interview where the questions were focused on Trump. Bridenstine offered, “We now have an administration that is fully supportive of our spaceflight initiatives…but also from a Space Force perspective.” Keep in mind, again, that the crew development program was started during the George W. Bush administration, and expanded due to an act signed during the Obama administration.  

The U.S. Air Force already had jurisdiction over space, so the creation of the Space Force was redundant.  Pentagon officials resisted the formation of the Space Force, with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stating in a memo to Senator John S. McCain III, “I oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting functions.” Astronaut Mark Kelly said of Space Force in a tweet, “This is a dumb idea. The Air Force does this already. That is their job. What’s next? We move submarines to the 7th branch and call it the under-the-sea force?”  

Bridenstine added during the interview, “[Trump] also said were going to go to the moon by 2024.  That means he’s putting himself at risk to say, ‘look, I’m going to be accountable, potentially, I’m going to be accountable to the initiatives that I put forward,’ and I think that’s, we have not had that kind of leadership for space in a long, long time and I’m so grateful for it.”

This speech and interview were a marked shift from statements Bridenstine made three days prior, a day before the initial planned Dragon launch.  On May 27th, an interview with Elon Musk and Bridenstine had comments from Bridenstine that focused on the contributions of NASA and SpaceX to the Dragon mission and didn’t mention Trump.

Some space enthusiasts expressed dismay at Bridenstine’s speech and interview, including the focus on Trump. Journalist Henry Brean tweeted, “What better moment is there for the NASA administrator to talk about the big risk the president is taking than when two astronauts are riding a rocket into space?”

By Stephanie Sarkis

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