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Obama, Romney Space Programs Light on Details, Heavy on NASA

By | August 31, 2012

      [Satellite News 08-31-12] If you are looking for detailed future space policies from either Democratic Incumbent President Barack Obama or Republican presidential nominee Gov. Mitt Romney, prepare to be disappointed. Neither candidate seems to be offering any specifics outside of a stump speech heavy with praise for American achievements in space. There are, however, differences between the two party platforms on the language used to describe the role each sees NASA playing through the next four years.

         While President Obama has yet to publish a fully drawn out space program platform on his campaign website or associated literature, he did answer a question pertaining to space program funding during a Reddit-sponsored Q&A session hosted last week on CNN.
         When asked if he would increase space program funding, President Obama did not mention NASA by name in his response, but hinted at future space initiatives that his administration has worked on with U.S. launchers in the private sector.
         “Making sure we stay at the forefront of space exploration is a big priority for my administration,” President Obama said. “The passing of Neil Armstrong this week is a reminder of the inspiration and wonder that our space program has provided in the past; the curiosity probe on mars is a reminder of what remains to be discovered. The key is to make sure that we invest in cutting edge research that can take us to the next level – so even as we continue work with the international space station, we are focused on a potential mission to a asteroid as a prelude to a manned Mars flight.”
         The president has dealt with a series of heated space-related topics during his four-year term, including the development of a National Security Space Strategy, the privatization of national launch programs and long-delayed reforms to ITAR and U.S. export control regulations that have hindered growth in the commercial space sector.
         What do Gov. Romney and a potential Republican administration offer as an alternative? Based on the official GOP platform published on Romney’s campaign website, the only definitive answer is a willingness to put NASA in the same paragraph as space.
          “The exploration of space has been a key part of U.S. global leadership and has supported innovation and ownership of technology,” the GOP wrote in its official platform. “Over the last half-century, in partnership with our aerospace industry, the work of NASA has helped define and strengthen our nation’s technological prowess. From building the world’s most powerful rockets to landing men on the Moon, sending robotic spacecraft throughout our solar system and beyond, building the International Space Station, and launching space-based telescopes that allow scientists to better understand our universe, NASA science and engineering have produced spectacular results.”
         While anyone could say that NASA has inspired Americans to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the Republican platform establishes a yet-to-be-determined link between that inspiration and jobs. “Today, America’s leadership in space is challenged by countries eager to emulate—and surpass—NASA’s accomplishments,” the GOP wrote in its platform. “To preserve our national security interests and foster innovation and competitiveness, we must sustain our preeminence in space, launching more science missions, guaranteeing unfettered access, and maintaining a source of high-value American jobs.”
         The Space Frontier Foundation issued a statement in response to the GOP space program that was less than thrilled with the lack of detail.
         “NASA seems to be the one big government program many Republicans love,” the Space Frontier Foundation said. “This is strange considering that one of the GOP’s favorite things in the entire world, privatizing industry, is completely unconsidered, which is particularly odd given how much growth we’ve seen in the private space industry recently.”
         While the Space Frontier Foundation said the GOP’s traditional stance on industry and government combined with its love for NASA creates a confusing mix of messages, the organization did say that Gov. Romney’s executive background could come in handy when stabilizing national space programs. “NASA needs the kind of overhaul Gov. Romney has brought to other dysfunctional organizations if it is to pass his test for all government programs: is it worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? Only when NASA ceases to be a white-collar jobs program and starts nurturing entrepreneurs in new industries will the answer be yes.”
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