According to Space.com, President Donald Trump made a surprise announcement as he was preparing to fly to Michigan and an appearance as a Ford Motor plant that has been converted to making ventilators.
“Trump told reporters at the White House today that he may fly to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch the historic Demo-2 mission’s launch from Cape Canaveral. Two NASA astronauts will ride a SpaceX Crew Dragon in the historic test flight. Liftoff is set for May 27.”
The president also made a joke about sending the media into space to get rid of them. Consternation and outrage ensued on social media.
President Trump has shrewdly concluded that the launch of two American astronauts from American soil, the first in nine years, will be a rare bit of good news in a country that has been racked by the coronavirus pandemic.
There is nothing like a space mission to swell American pride and make people feel good about themselves. Even as the pandemic makes a hash of the American economy. The SpaceX Crew Dragon launch will be a demonstration that even in these sad times, the United States is still capable of greatness.
According to Fox News, former astronaut Mike Massimino suggested that the launch will be a “shot of inspiration” during the coronavirus pandemic. He said, “It’s always good timing for a shot of inspiration and good news. People may be inclined to pay attention because they are home and online.”
NASA Select, the Discovery Channel, the Science Channel, and the National Geographic Channel will be covering the launch wall to wall. Other networks, including cable news networks such as Fox and CNN, will doubtless cut in live just before the launch happens.
Other presidents and candidates for president have used space missions to their own advantage. President Richard Nixon famously greeted that Apollo 11 astronauts when they returned to Earth, even as they endured quarantine.
Then-Vice President George H. W. Bush greeted the crew of the first space shuttle to fly after the Challenger accident, coincidentally before he was elected comfortably in the 1988 presidential contest.
Trump has famously established the most expansive space policy since President John F. Kennedy, and some pundits wonder if he has not surpassed JFK, who sent Americans to the moon. The core of that policy is expressed thus:
“Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.”
As a result, the Artemis program is due to take Americans back to the moon by 2024.
Trump has also enacted policies encouraging the commercial development of space and has established a new branch of the United States military, the United States Space Force.
Ironically, the launch of the Crew Dragon will not be the result of any policy Trump has initiated. Commercializing space flight was an initiative executed by President George W. Bush and continued by President Barack Obama. However, so far as anyone knows, neither gentleman is scheduled to attend the launch.
If any president of the United States witnesses the launch, it will be Trump, hobnobbing with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. It will be Trump who will tell the media how wonderful the launch will be, a credit to the people who worked to make it happen, and a sign of American greatness.
Indeed, Obama has been blamed for what many see as a decline in America’s space program. He snarkily ended the Bush-era Constellation program to return astronauts to the moon, even ridiculing the idea during a speech at the Kennedy Space Center.
“Now, I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned. But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before. Buzz has been there. There’s a lot more of space to explore, and a lot more to learn when we do.”
When Americans return to the moon, thanks in large part to Trump’s reversal of the Obama quarantine of Earth’s nearest neighbor, he will no doubt by present when that next man and first woman departs on the first voyage to the lunar surface since 1972. The satisfaction and the credit will be entirely his.