Another election year, time for the “unbiased” media to give their endorsement to one candidate or another. After listening to both Presidential candidates’ comments and actions regarding space exploration, here is my “fair and balanced” assessment.
The current President of the United States, Barack Obama, made his intentions regarding space exploration clear on the campaign trail on November 22, 2007. If space advocates and enthusiasts had actually paid attention to Obama’s education policy statement released that day, candidate Obama would certainly have lost some of the votes he received.
In essence Obama stated he would cut by 64%, and postpone, the program-of-record at that time, the Constellation Program, for five years. The diverted funds would then be redirected to then-candidate Obama’s education efforts.
Needless to say, this did not sit very well with folks along Florida’s Space Coast, which makes up the eastern anchor of the politically important I-4 Corridor. Obama’s poll numbers plummeted along the Space Coast.
So, just a few days before the Democratic Convention, and after much cajoling by Florida’s senior Senator Bill Nelson, candidate Obama visited Brevard County and gave a broad, general speech about how much he actually wanted to support NASA. Most cynical was his comment using the motto of the Bush Administration’s Vision for Space Exploration – “Moon, Mars and Beyond”. In essence, he wrapped his comments in the colors of the program-of-record to persuade worried aerospace workers to vote for him.
It turned out that they had every reason to be worried.
For those that watched the president’s inauguration procession, where NASA placed in Obama’s hierarchy of importance – dead last – should have been a warning of things to come. Even the multi-colored grass munchers of the “Lawn Rangers” were further up in the Inaugural procession than the space agency, the very one that has provided our nation with many of the advancements and accomplishments, which we now take for granted.
On the seventh anniversary of the loss, of the crew of space shuttle Columbia President Obama showed his regard for NASA by introducing his FY 2011 Budget proposal that called for the complete cancellation of the Constellation Program. The seven years and $9 billion already invested in it would all have been lost. The space industry and numerous politicians –including many in his own party – were less than amused. The Administration thought the storm of opposition in Congress would blow over, but as time marched on, momentum seemed to move away from the President. Many of the Florida voters who had voted for him expressed “buyer’s remorse”. But it was too late.
Video courtesy of CBS
In an effort to shore-up not only his flailing space plan but his support in Florida, the President made another trip to the state’s Space Coast, this time to Kennedy Space Center, and he brought along Buzz Aldrin for help. I, like many members of the press, traveled to the Space Center to hear what the President had to say for himself. The President’s defenders in the space agency stressed that his budget proposal was a move to reign in the cost overruns that had occurred on the Constellation Program. Yeah, not thinking so. At KSC, President Obama spoke about his deep respect and appreciation for NASA. He then tossed the space agency a “Constellation Prize” – the President exclaimed that a stripped-down variant of the Orion spacecraft would be produced. Details were lacking. It was unclear how many of the craft would be made. And President Obama stated that the space agency would visit an asteroid by 2025 and that we would travel to Mars “sometime” within his lifetime. Being in the audience and watching the reaction to those statements was telling; the applause that he did receive was limp at best.
While at Kennedy Space Center, President Obama had an opportunity to show the space workers that he truly believed in, and supported, them. In that, he failed miserably. Instead of stopping by Launch Complex 39 or any of the launch pads that made the space age a reality, or of visiting with even a few NASA civil servants, who are after all his own employees, he instead visited Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40) – owned by SpaceX. The president’s actions spoke volumes. NASA and it’s people didn’t matter to him. The opposition in Congress to the President’s plans to end Constellation grew overnight as members reacted to the arrogance and lack of regard the President’s actions displayed.
NASA had, in one election, lost the momentum and direction that it had been building for close to a decade. In an attempt to further clarify his position, the “National Space Policy” was unveiled shortly after the president’s visit. This too turned out to be an “epic fail” in turns of clarification.
Barely four months later, the Senate, under the President’s own Party, by unanimous consent, passed a bill that largely reversed the President’s space plans. A few weeks later, the House of Representatives held a debate on the House floor to consider the Senate’s bill, which the networks carried live. In the House, there was indeed opposition to the Senate’s effort, but not because it went against the President. No, the opposition from members such as Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was that the Senate bill did not go far enough in repudiating the President’s vision for America’s future space program. In the end, nearly 3/4 of the Democratic-run House voted for the Senate bill, a veto proof majority. The bill became law in October 2010 as the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. It was a stunning reversal to the President, and at the hands of a Congress run by his own Party.
Obama’s predecessor was accused of accomplishing very little. But one of the things that Bush has been credited for was reinvigorating NASA. President Obama managed to fritter that away. If based solely on space-related matters President Obama would be deemed as a failure – and those who worked in our nation’s space program would say deservedly so. Later, the President only seemed to compound this failure with the release of his FY 2013 Budget Proposal – in which he requested that NASA’s planetary mission’s program be reduced by 20 percent.
Where does one begin? How about with; “I spent 25 years in business. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I’d say, ‘You’re fired!’”. These comments made by Governor “Etch a Sketch” show even less vision than Obama’s “Been there to the Moon, done that” statements at KSC. We don’t have to go into a long diatribe about Mr. Romney as he has already shown that he simply doesn’t get it about space.
So, if and when Romney were to try to pull an “Obama in Titusville” by coming to the Space Coast and telling everyone how much he will support NASA – people should be very careful about giving him the second chance that our current president received. If space-minded voters learned anything from the 2008 election, it is simply that voters need to listen to what the candidates say first. More likely-than-not, this will be the only opportunity to catch them in a moment of honesty.
Romney has made some noise about “American Exceptionalism”. If he actually understood what those words mean, he would realize that U.S. space efforts were at the forefront of what made the United States…well, exceptional. One of the greatest accomplishment is U.S. history, the Moon landings, define American Exceptionalism. Given Romney’s comments about lunar aspirations, he either doesn’t get it or isn’t being sincere about his desires to bring back America’s greatness.
Other presidential contenders in the GOP have also displayed the space-issues ignorance. Gingrich has stated that he would support a Moon base and that under his Presidency there would be five launches a day. Anyone who understands how launch operations work knows that that number isn’t just impossible – it’s ludicrous. Any well-managed range can only launch about twice a week.
As bad as Obama has been to the space industry, it is not obvious that Romney would be any better. In fact, none of the actions or comments made by any of the presidential candidates is good for the future of space exploration. In short, none of our current executive-branch contenders values or understands space-related issues.
NASA has been on a downward spiral for decades. In four decades we went from sending astronauts to other worlds – to losing the ability to send them into low-Earth-orbit at all. Our leaders are mostly to blame for this. However, one must consider who put those so-called-leaders in a position to do the damage that they have done – and that answer is us, the electorate.
As such, given the actions of the current president and the statements made by those vying to replace him, what are those for whom space is a key issue to do?
It would be difficult for one who supports space to whole heatedly believe that any of those seeking the highest office in the land deserve it from a space exploration point-of-view. So the endorsement is for…none-of-the-above.
Many Democratic supporters, Obamanauts and backers of the progressive agenda will rally to the president’s defense. However, a simple review of President Obama’s actions (please see links to the president’s own words) renders his defense on space as an exercise in reality distortion. As for Conservatives, Free-Market acolytes, and other right-winger space supporters who seek to defend Romney, maybe they should do what should have been done with candidate Obama – listen to what Romney really says first, not after he nosedives in the polls and needs Florida.