The Washington Post reported on Wednesday about a remarkable exchange that presidential candidate Donald Trump had with a ten-year-old boy named Adam at a townhall in New Hampshire. The lad, a recent spelling bee champ, asked the mercurial real estate tycoon his opinion of NASA. After a brief exchange about whether the young man had meant “NAFTA,” Trump offered a less than satisfying answer that showed that he is still rough around the edges where it comes to dealing with future voters.
Trump said, “”You know, in the old days, it was great. Right now, we have bigger problems — you understand that? We’ve got to fix our potholes. You know, we don’t exactly have a lot of money.”
The incident is not the first time the Donald trampled over the space exploration dreams of a questioner at a political event. Back in August, a research fellow from MIT put the question to him about exploring Mars, ironically also at a New Hampshire event. He responded, ““Honestly, I think it’s wonderful; I want to rebuild our infrastructure first, ok? I think it’s wonderful.” His tone, however, was said to have been dismissive.
It is not that Trump is entirely ignorant of the issue. Back in 2012, he tweeted, “It is very sad to see what @BarackObama has done with NASA. He has gutted the program and made us dependent on the Russians.” At the Manchester event, Trump also launched into musings about how the private sector is starting to get into space, though he seemed to be unaware how much NASA money goes into such commercial ventures in the form of subsidies.
Trump’s response to the ten-year-old space enthusiast was a bit unartful. Filling potholes is a task that is shared by local, state, and federal governments, depending on the road where they are located. Space exploration is largely a federal matter. Currently, a tiny amount, less than half of one percent of the federal budget, is spent on all NASA programs. Increasing NASA funding a few billion would be a rounding error where the federal budget is concerned. And the potholes could be fixed as well.
In the interest of full disclosure, this writer recently published a study of the political aspects of space and NASA entitled “Why is it so Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” Mr. Trump might find it enlightening.
In the meantime, one wonders whether a more space-friendly candidate (Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Carly Fiorina all come to mind) might choose to take advantage of Trump’s ham handed answer to the child’s question.
The exchange with ten-year old Adam takes place 38 minutes into the included video.