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More on Space Policy Politics

Race doesn’t reflect NASA, exploration

It is not surprising that NASA has remained on the sidelines of the presidential race, said Howard McCurdy, a professor at American University and the author of several books on the space program. Historically, he said, space policy has stayed out of national campaigns – and, in general, has not been a heavily politicized issue.

While the agency’s big successes and failures make headlines, McCurdy said, “on the governmental list of priorities, I’m not sure it even breaks the top 20.”

Not that space being under the election year political radar is necessarily a bad thing…look at all the political attention paid to health care, poverty, and pensions over the past forty years, and the state of those issues today. Think of how much worse off NASA might be if it were a political football.

Bush hasn’t mentioned the moon-Mars plan in any significant way, leading some to wonder whether he remains supportive of his own policy initiative.

The Bush-Cheney campaign did not respond to inquiries as to why the president hasn’t brought up the space program in detail since the January speech.

Perhaps it’s because…they don’t want to politicize NASA and the VSE?

While Bush’s plan has been criticized as lacking detail, it is significantly more specific than the stance presented by Kerry’s campaign.

That’s an understatement. But never fear — I’m sure the Senator has a plan for space, too…

Jason Furman, an economic-policy director for the Kerry campaign, said the senator is supportive of continued exploration – and is open to the idea of spending more money on the space program – but thinks Bush’s plan is too expensive and shortchanges some worthwhile NASA programs.

…or maybe just another litany of complaints.

“John Kerry believes the space program has made really important contributions, both to our knowledge about the world and the universe and also has been very important to the economy,” Furman said. “Space exploration, and NASA in particular, will be very important to him.”

If elected, Furman said, Kerry would review the entire space program and set priorities according to the best science available and the best use of NASA’s limited resources. That review might eventually include more money for the program, Furman said.

“But don’t bet on it,” he added sotto voce, “it’s just pander-talk.”

“We can make additional investments – and we should – but we can’t do it in a way that jeopardizes other important NASA programs, or in a way that costs hundreds of billions of dollars,” he said.

Read: we can’t kill any sacred cows, and we can’t spend any more money…a recipe for more of the same.

Clearly, the future of the shuttle, and whether to retire it and build an entirely new spacecraft or try and extend its life, is an issue, Furman said.

Read: Kerry will put 2020 back on the table, and the status quo ante VSE will be restored.

While a review would include NASA’s organization, including its far-flung field centers, Furman said big changes are unlikely.

“This would not be a radical rethinking of NASA and its mission,” he said.

Well, that’s helpful. Heaven knows NASA doesn’t need such a thing.

Fundamentally, McCurdy said, the space programs overseen by both candidates probably would look fairly similar.

Right…except for being totally different.

1 comment to More on Space Policy Politics

  • Carl Carlsson

    I saw a campaign commercial last night that included support for “bold missions for NASA”, but then again it was for Tom DeLay and probably only ran in the greater Houston area.