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American astronaut Eileen Collins spoke last night at the Republican convention, calling for a renewal of the American space effort.
Her remarks were very short, essentially calling for an end to the American reliance on the Russians to get our astronauts into space. Her speech also differed from her prepared remarks in that she left out the part where she specifically endorsed Donald Trump.
According to a transcript of her prepared remarks provided by the GOP Convention to Syracuse University (her alma mater) and posted on the university’s website, however, the ending was supposed to be “We need leadership that will make America first again. That leader is Donald Trump. Thank you and God bless the United States of America.” Thus, although she did not read the line endorsing Trump, she did use his slogan “make America great again” instead of “make America first again” as in the prepared remarks.
The press will make a big deal about this, but I suspect that when it came time to say the words, Collins’ decades of training at NASA, where astronauts as government workers are specifically forbidden by the Hatch Act from lobbying for specific political candidates, took over. She clearly was supporting Trump. Habits just made it hard for her to become political, even though she is now retired from NASA.
What is important is that both she and Ted Cruz in their convention remarks both invoked the need for a vibrant American space effort, but both were vague about how to do it. Combining that with Trump’s already noted position, that we need a space effort but we also have to find ways to do this efficiently because the government has bigger priorities, suggests to me once again that, should Trump win, SLS and Orion will die quickly while commercial space will get a boost.
On a personal note, I am hoping that my policy paper, Exploring Space in the 21st Century, due out in about a month and focused very much on this precise issue, will land on these politicians’ desks at exactly the right moment, and help convince them to make what I think are the right decisions.