What to Expect for Space and Sci/Tech Under President Trump?

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US President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t strike as one who knows – or cares – a lot about space, science, and technology. Since the announcement of Trump’s victory, there have been a lot of headlines about a possible catastrophic impact of the upcoming Trump presidency on space and sci/tech in the US. However, a smart businessman – and Trump is one – knows that he must have competent advisers for issues on which he is ignorant, or uninterested.

Trump is not known for always listening to his advisers. But, when he hasn’t listened, it was about issues he did know and care about – and the elections’ results show that he was right. I think we can assume that, when it comes to space and sci/tech issues, President Trump won’t have strong feelings one way or another, and therefore he will listen to his advisers.

The Trump campaign brought former congressman Robert Smith Walker, known as Bob Walker, as its space policy advisor. Space News reports. Walker is a space policy veteran who was appointed by President George W. Bush to chair the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry in 2001, and served on the President’s Commission on Implementation of the United States Space Exploration Policy, which submitted its final report titled “A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover” in 2004.

Now Walker, who seems likely to receive a formal space advisory role in the Trump administration, is drafting a space policy.

“I would describe what we came up with in four terms,” said Walker.

“It’s visionary, it’s disruptive, it’s coordinating and it’s resilient.”

Among the highlights of the developing new space policy, a commitment to global space leadership, a re-institution of the National Space Council, the development of military hypersonics and small satellite technologies, new private and public partners – including China – for the International Space Station, and increased reliance on the commercial sector, in particular for low Earth orbit access and operations.

Two points seem especially worth noting and praising: setting a goal of human exploration of the solar system by the end of the century, which according to Walker would serve as a “stretch goal” to drive technology developments to a stronger degree than simply a goal of humans to Mars, and shifting NASA budgets to “deep space achievements” rather than Earth science and climate research.

Walker is persuaded that the US should return to the moon. It is “essential to have the moon as a part of our planned missions headed for Mars and beyond,” he said.

“I can’t speak for the campaign or the transition team, but I will say personally I think going to the moon as a part of an extended presence in space is vital.”

The 2004 final report of the President’s Commission recommended to “extend human presence across the solar system, starting with a human return to the Moon by the year 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations.” Similarly, other space policy leaders, notably including the Director of the European Space Agency (ESA), are persuaded that we should go back to the moon and establish permanent lunar outposts.

Back to Big, Forward Looking, Visionary Sci/Tech Initiatives

Highway worksWhen it comes to science and technology, it seems that President-elect Trump has already a top-class adviser: the billionaire businessman Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook, one of the very few Silicon Valley tech titans to support Donald Trump before the elections (many more are likely to support Trump now, but that’s too easy).

Thiel, who has been demonized by the liberal Silicon Valley elites and most of the tech press for supporting Trump and donating $1.25 million to his campaign, seems to be in a position to reap some rewards now that his bet on Trump has paid off, notes The New York Times. But he said in an interview that he has no desire to have a formal role in Trump’s administration. However, “I’ll try to help the president in any way I can,” he said.

Thiel added that Silicon Valley should now work with the rest of the country and the world, instead of spending the next four years issuing denunciatory tweets on Twitter. “For a day or two, that’s fine,” he said. “But I hope Silicon Valley will be more productive than that.”

In his recent speech at the National Press Club, Thiel mentioned the Manhattan Project, the Interstate Highway System, and the Apollo Program as examples of big, forward-looking government programs. “But we have fallen very far from that standard,” he said, echoing his own famous remark:

“We were promised flying cars and we got 140 characters.”

It’s no surprise that Silicon Valley, which these days does too much 140 characters and not enough flying cars, doesn’t like Thiel.

Instead of 140 characters, Thiel wants to go back to big, forward looking, visionary sci/tech initiatives – the kind of projects described in “What happened to the future,” the manifesto of his Founders Fund. In his book “Zero to One,” Thiel – a transhumanist – proposes to accelerate “takeoff toward a much better future,” perhaps toward “new technologies so powerful as to transcend the current limits of our understanding.”

It appears that President Trump will have excellent advisers, with or without formal roles, for space, science, and technology policy. It’s to be hoped, of course, that he’ll listen to them.

Images from Pixabay and Pexels.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.