On @ The 90: A Presidential Endorsement

So, which of the presidential candidates does this space supporter back? The answer might suprise you... Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

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.

Barack Obama

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.

Mitt Romney

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.

Missions » ISS » COTS » Missions » ISS »


  1. There will come a point when you realize Constellation was never going to happen. And Obama never lied about that.

    More to the point – you can’t recreate Apollo. And NASA should not be about exploration. Because exploration, for exploration sake (whatever that means) is pointless.

    What we need is development, and colonizaition

  2. BTW, would it be too much to ask you to link to Obama’s mid-point space policy? I mean, it is public record, and you claim to be about “the truth”

      • Ferris…I’m sorry, Aaron,

        Did you actually read the “midpoint space policy” statement you linked to? Because I’m of the opinion you did not, or else you would not have stated the above concerning Ares I or Orion. Here’s what the statement says concerning…

        Develop the Next-Generation of Space Vehicles: The retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010 will leave the United States without manned spaceflight capability until the introduction of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) carried by the Ares I Launch Vehicle. As president, Obama will support the development of this vital new platform to ensure that the United States’ reliance on foreign space capabilities is limited to the minimum possible time period. The CEV [the same Orion CEV noted above] will be the backbone of future missions, and is being designed with technology that is already proven and available.

        • Yea, I did see that
          And you missed the point
          As I’ve said, multiple times, there were 3 positions over the course of the Obama campaign.

          So, the point is, early in the campaign, he said talked about Constellation by name (or at least, its parts).

          The point is, his space policy changed in Titusville (and was further refined by the white paper, which is referenced further down, a week later). And that change INCLUDED the disappearance actually naming Constellation, or its parts, by name.

          Thus, my point – he has never broken a promise.

  3. Exploration is essential to our civilization. We cannot “colonize”until we explore. The concept of exploration goes way beyond simply looking for new places; if that were the case, we can just continue with Hubble and James Webb. Exploration entails exploring new technology and new ways of doing things. By exploring the universe, we gain an understanding of what it will take to live in new environments. Through exploration, our knowledge of science grows and we develop and improve the technology tha enables us to enjoy an improved quality of life here on Earth. I only wish this would become more clear to you, the majority of voters, our president and whoever will make the future decisions regarding American Space Policy.

    • The problem is we aren’t doing that kind of exploration. We aren’t trying to create the infrastructure needed for sustained living on other planets, or how to adapt resources on-site, or how to (for lack of a better phrase) make it pay for itself.

      If we were actually doing that, you might see people get more informed.

      • Mr. Valyln,

        We “aren’t doing that kind of exploration” because this White House, the President’s past campaign space advisor and current NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, OSTP’s Chairman John Holdren, former OSTP Chief of Staff James Kohlenberger, OMB’s Science and Programs Branch Chief Paul Shawcross, and former OMB Director of Budget and now NASA CFO Elizabeth Robinson have actively worked to slow the current Program of Record, per the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. This Gang of Five, as Doc likes to refer to them, have through their misguided action and in concert with their supporters done more damage to the U.S. human spaceflight program in 3 short years than all of the past Administrations combined.

        Opposition by the Administration to fulfill in whole or in part the 2010 NASA Authorization Act hasn’t been just a policy dispute but part of a concerted, and improper, effort by the Administration and the above-named individuals towards a single-minded to rely solely on commercial space transport for ISS crews.

        Even worse, rumors abound that the Administration, not content to loose on space policy as in did in 2010, will upon the President’s reelection make a concerted effort to end both the SLS and Orion programs. The sooner this Administration is out-of-office, the sooner this nation can once return to “that kind of exploration”.

        • The 2010 Authorization law doesn’t allow us to do that kind of exploration. It is not the enabler – it is the impediment.

          As for your claims slow dragging, sorry but no – rushing the decision, as demanded by the Congress, resulted in a bad plan.

          As to what will happen to SLS and Orion – the biggest threat to SLS is not the administration – its sequestration. I asked Mr. Hillhouse about it, and he had no real response, so maybe you will. What programs are eliminated by sequestration (IE 1.4 Billion) or how does sequestration get prevented?

          Regarding Orion – who says that if you get rid of SLS, you should get rid of Orion?

          Returning to that kind of exploration will require things like Commercial Crew, and new technology, such as fuel depots, deep space spacecraft. Not Shuttle-Derived Heavy Lift.

        • Mike,
          You got it right…

          Even Romney’s benign neglect would be a shot in the arm to NASA just to get rid of the Gang of 5. They have politicized the agency more than it ever has been since the agency’s inception. They have destroyed the NASA vision through sheer technical ignorance. They have corrupted the sound HSF design process with irresponsible shilling for commercial patronage. They have insulted astronaut safety with disregard for spacecraft risk mitigation.

          What is a POLITICAL scientist doing in the number 2 position in NASA? Wrecking it… She doesn’t even know why we’re going to an asteroid. She doesn’t have a near-term HSF mission in mind and has admitted this to an audience of hundreds at Johnson Space Center.

          I must admit that I don’t dislike our president. His flip-flopping on space policy demonstrates he doesn’t have a full grip on what’s going on beneath him. But I am saddened that he could not see the blind partisan political ambition and technical incompetence of his space and science advisers. Neil Armstrong said it best when he testified to Congress in 2010…. The president has been “ill-advised”. Sadly it is at the detriment of the country’s once proud space program.

  4. Jason – your analysis and summary of the Presidents position(s) and Governor Romney’s is spot on – unfortunately.

    Regarding the comment that NASA should not be about exploration, of course it should be. That should always be a component in determining what NASA does. No one, no country has done exploration for the heck of it. Exploration has been done for many reasons – advancing science, driving an economy in terms of finding new resources, gaining technical knowledge, and yes, even for inspiration and national pride. All these things are why there is still a NASA and why tax payer money is still spent on the things NASA does today.

    If one thinks the tax payer is going to support NASA budgets to colonize the moon or mars – you should realize its never going to happen unless there is some immediate, overwhelming reason to do so. If one thinks that private industry will – great, please post a link to the business case for that because I would like to understand what that possibly could be. For the immediate future – NASA is in the exploration business as defined above with the budget we have.

    • But when space exploration is talked about, its always talked about for “exploration’s sake” (Kennedy’s quote about climb the highest mountain, etc) – thats the way we’ve been treating exploration, and its certainly how a number of our elected officials treat it.

      As for the examples you suggest,
      1. right now, with how we’ve created and deployed space hardware, advancing science is much better done via robotics
      2. I’ll grant we’ve found a lot of potential resources in space, but we haven’t moved towards actually USING a space resource in the last 20-30 years
      3. A lot of the technical knowledge being pursued, particularly in the case of SLS, isn’t knowledge that has usefulness on a broader scale. And the programs that could do this, like OCT, get their budgets chopped.
      4. As for inspiration and national pride – the NEA gets less than a billion a year. Why shouldn’t that be the metric for the NASA budget?

      As for what people will support with the NASA budget – I think most people don’t care. But I think they would be more likely to care if NASA, particularly its HSF program, were focused on the question of “Can we make a self-sustaining space economy that requires humans in space?”

      Because thats still exploration, and it deals with one of the biggest issues of colonization – making it pay for itself

      • I am not sure what you have been listening too but I have never heard anyone of significance say we should explore for the “sake of it”. It has always been for the reasons I cited. Everyone knew when Kennedy gave that speech it was about beating the Russians (that would be the National Pride/politics side of exploration).

        Regarding your other points:

        (1) To some extent you are correct but the human element could be better in some cases. I believe it was Steve Squires, a self proclaimed robot guy who concedes that some of the best science could be done via human exploration.
        (2) I agree
        (3) Depending on what is meant by broader scale, I don’t think it needs too. Its a common pitfall to try to make something complex do and fulfill many different functions and you end up with so many compromises that the end product is either very expensive and/or not terribly good at doing any one thing. I am not saying this is an absolute but as an engineer I have seen this happen many times. As for OCT, when I see budget being spent on lasercomm and solar sails, I am ok with that part of the budget being where its at.
        (4) You’re kidding right? Given the poor state of eduction in this country vs the budget sunk in to it on all levels, maybe we should see if any metrics that NASA and rest of Aerospace industry uses could be applied to it. Lets take the so-called “commercial space model” and lets empower parents to have choices in schools: public, charter and private by letting them choose where they spend their precious education dollars.

        I don’t see how answering the question of “Can we make a self-sustaining space economy that requires humans in space” is exploration by any definition of the word. The “Can” or really the “how” part of that question is best left to, answered by, and funded by the free market. Maybe the Department of Commerce could answer the question you pose. They do have a higher budget than the NEA…..

        • The tendancy to reference exploration for exploration sake is still going on. Or at least, there is this impression that it is important, without actually porviding measurable and real justifications.

          Re points
          1. Humans can be better, but on a dollar per science, robots win out right now. If/when we lower the cost of HSF, then it becomes a more interesting question, but not yet
          2. Glad you do 😀
          3. When I speak of broader scale, what I mean is creating infrastructure that has multiple users, including exploration. No one beyond NASA is going to use SLS (and this ignores the fact that there are no payloads for SLS). Thats not true for the other rockets we have, and it would not have to be true for something like fuel depots (which is one of the top items for OCT, from what I’ve heard)
          4. You merely said inspiration. You didn’t specify what and how you were inspiring. If you want to consider inspiring for education, I would argue that the NASA budget would be better served funding education, in general. As for the rest of your comments on education, I am not going to respond, since it doesn’t have anything to do with the point under discussion.

          Finally, as to my question – absolutely its exploration. We don’t know if its possible, or how to do it. That, by definition, is exploration. Because its an unknown region. And this is as much part of NASA, since NASA is a space agency.

          • Your statement that NASA’s budget would be better served funding education is nonsensical so I can’t really respond to that.

            Regarding the back and forth on what is and isn’t (space) exploration – nice try, but I recognize the tactic of altering its accepted meaning in order to support your argument. At the end of the day most people understand what this means in the context of NASA. In any case, I think this horse has been beat enough.

  5. Mr. Valyln,

    Just to ensure that we are all starting from the same set of initial conditions, so to speak, it is your defense that Senator Obama did not per se name the Constellation Program or any of its constituent projects and therefore made no commitment to the Program of Record in his speech in Titusville on August 2, 2008, even as the Senator tried to alleviate, to the Titusville audience in particular, and the space community more generally, concerns over his past, stated opposition to a national human space flight program.

    If, as you seem to intent in claiming, Senator Obama did not directly and publicly state his support for the Constellation Program, or any of its constituent projects, in his Titusville speech because he always intended to pursue his past policy of ending the Program, and therefore the nation’s human spaceflight efforts, as embodied in Section IX of his policy position paper, “Barack Obama’s Plan For Lifetime Success Through Education”, it would point to a breath-taking cynicism, willingness to mislead, and even a reflexivity to lie.

    Anyone aware of your wide-ranging, energetic defense of the President’s actions vis-a-vis space policy as a candidate or while in office can only reasonably conclude that you support both President Obama’s means and ends.

    Thank you for that clarification, Mr. Valyln.

    • I should respond with something snarky like “Thats Washington”, but let me be more honest.

      It is my supposition (supported by previous Obama’s campaign comments about needing a broad discussion about space policy) that Obama didn’t specify the rocket/plan, because he wanted to leave the trade space open. At the time, Constellation was already showing its impracticalities and un-sustainability. And there were other options presenting themselves, such as ULA’s affordable exploration architecture, the America’s Space Prize, commercial spacecrafts to LEO, and so on.

      So, in short – its my supposition that he didn’t name it because he didn’t want to close the trade space, for what ultimately became the Augustine Committee.

  6. I am not familiar with the term “sequestration”‘ but It is very clear to me that the current administration did indeed slow roll space exploration architecture! Just ask many of my friends who lost their jobs waiting for Obama to come up with something. Congress, for the first time in NASA,s history had to threaten, coerce and force NASA and the administration to do something. This congress was very bi-partisan in its lack of agreement with NASAs direction. They only created SLS because Obama would not provide anything better. iIt is very unfortunate tha we have to see NASAs budget (less tha 1% of America’s budget) constantly attacked as though it is “pork”. The problem isn’t money, it’s lack of vision.

    • I’d suggest you get familiar, because it will result in a $1.4 Billion cut in NASA’s budget.

      Regarding the other stuff – building SLS is not exploring, and you don’t need a big rocket to explore. What you need is a sustainable program that will let you explore, while lowering costs.

      It was Congress who rejected that vision, and instead wanted to focus keeping the status quo.

      • Mr. Valyn,

        I appreciate your point of view. Having said:

        You’re probably correct regarding Constellation.

        Obama lied – no matter how much you wish it weren’t so – it is. I can (again) provide you with the link highlighting his comments on the 2008 campaign trail – but you will just (again) “adapt” what he said. He came to the Space Coast and promised to support “Moon, Mars and Beyond” – the mantra of the Vision for Space Exploration. He did so in a public venue (a rally) – and those words – matter.

        I suggest that as you suggest to Borecrawler that you get familiar with that video – we’ve all seen it and we know what he said – you’re statements would have much more weight if you owned the words – that you’re stating never happened. Also, when you post – please remember to respect the opinions of others. We’re changing the commenting policy on AmericaSpace and while we appreciate your opinions and the opinions of others who might not agree with everything we post – we ask that you return the courtesy.

        Sincerely and with thanks, Jason Rhian

  7. Mr. Rhian, I can only agree 100% with your article. And I’m sad to do it. It’s a great irony and a sign of decay, that something that should have been one of the top priorities, is actually the bottom last.

    I can only quote this phrase: “Individual people and nations thrive when they challenge themselves and advance. When they do not, they decay and vanish”.

    It’s as simple as that…

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