Last Thursday Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and a Republican candidate for president who has been trailing in the polls, held a conference call with reports and bloggers to discuss a wide range of issues. One of the participants, who runs a Colorado-based pro-Huckabee blog, asked the candidate a rare question about space policy: with the news that the House Appropriations Committee has passed a budget that includes a provision prohibiting spending on human exploration of Mars, what is his stance about human space exploration, and what is his vision for the space program?
Huckabee started with a feeble joke:
Let me begin by saying that there are several people I’d like to send to Mars, so if we could get a vessel on that way, I’d like to put together a passenger list. Only thing is, I probably would only provide enough fuel to get them there, I’m not sure we’d get them back. By the way, don’t ask me the followup of who I’d like on that list, that would be a very closely guarded secret.
Then Huckabee described his past interest in space, and the benefits he sees space exploration in general providing the country, including a discussion of space-based air traffic control systems [emphasis added]:
I’m a child of the Space Age, born in 1955, and remember well, as a small child, John F. Kennedy’s vision to get us to the Moon. I remember sitting in my living room floor in July of 1969, when Neil Armstrong put his foot on the Moon. I’m also a person, as a 15-year-old kid, I was selected to go and spend two weeks at Cape Kennedy space program, part of Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation. One kid from each state was selected, ten from foreign countries, it was an amazing experience. It reignited my passion about the space program. I’m saying all that as sort of a preface.
I believe that the space program has brought about far more benefits than simply the exploration of space. The side benefits in medical technology, navigation technology, digital technology, audiovisual, you know, it’s endless. And largely it was launched from the scientific research that was done in order to help us in the space race. So I think there are tremendous benefits that we would gain from an accelerated space exploration program that would help us in energy independence, that would help us in future technologies, perhaps better managing, I think, for example, that if we had a satellite-based air traffic control system, we would be far better off, in fact I know we would, that we would under the current system that is absolutely logjammed and is creating an enormous expenditure in both financial and social capital as people sit on runways for hours and hours and flights are delayed, and it’s costing companies and individuals extraordinarily amounts of money and time. So, I don’t have a dollar figure for you at this point. I’m trying to develop the national budget. But I certainly would be in strong favor of increasing our efforts in space exploration and technology.
Huckabee was then asked a followup: what would he say to those who prefer robotic spaceflight over human spaceflight? Huckabee sees a balance (and in the process dabbles in some creationism language):
I think there’s got to be a combination. We want to make sure that when we have human exploration it’s safe. We don’t want to start putting people in unnecessary risk, although space exploration is always going to be risky. But there is still a value of human exploration. Robots are wonderful, and there’s a lot of artificial intelligence that can be created in robotics, but you know I always argue that when God created the human eye, there’s never been a better camera, when God created the human nose there’s never been a better sensory device, when God created the human ear there’s never been a better listening device. There’s ultimately value in human exploration simply because you have all the tools that exist within the human capacity that simply are unmatched by any technology at this point.
One final question [again, emphasis added]:
Well, I don’t know if we could do it right away, because I don’t think we’ve got the technology to get them there and back in any period of time. So I’d want to see where we are, but if we came to the place in my tenure where that was a reasonable possibility and one that made sense, I’m not opposed to it, I’m just not quite ready to say, because I can just see the headline now, “Huckabee Proposes Mars Mission”. Again, there are some people I’d like to send over there, but probably not for the same reason you’re thinking of right now.
[The transcription above is from audio posted on Huckabee's campaign web site; go to part 3 of the July 19 conference call, about three minutes into that section. Any errors in the transcription are solely my responsibility.]
What Huckabee thinks about space policy is, in the long run, not necessarily very relevant, given his standing in the polls these days. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see him shy away from proclaiming his clear support for human Mars missions because of his concerns about the headlines it would generate, even while cracking jokes about sending people on one-way trips to Mars.