Back in 2016, during the heat of the presidential election, I had lunch in southern Louisiana with a senior manager of NASA’s Space Launch System program. We were speaking off the record, so I won’t share his name even now. But one of the important points he sought to make was how a number of big-ticket items in NASA’s portfolio were set up for the next president.
During a first term for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, he said, there would be a lot of big “wins.” For the first time since 2011, humans would launch into space from the United States via NASA’s commercial crew program. The James Webb Space Telescope, an epic scientific instrument, would fly. And the Space Launch System rocket—the largest booster since the Saturn V—would take to the skies for the first time.
A little more than three years later, it is clear that only one of these three achievements has a chance of happening in the year 2020: a commercial crew flight. It will happen on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Boeing’s Starliner, or perhaps both. So what may have appeared as a wealth of big spaceflight moments for the Trump administration has withered to one.