Clinton Backs Eventual Human Space Exploration Of Solar System, And Supports New Spaceship

By | December 3, 2007 | Satellite News Feed

Huckabee Uncertain On Mars, But Urges Space Program Growth

Tancredo Opposes Exploration, Mars Mission On Budget Deficit Grounds

Most presidential candidates have voiced no support for, or have outright opposed, President Bush’s vision of manned missions to the moon, Mars and beyond.

The one exception is Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), whose husband Bill, as president for eight years, kept NASA funded so construction of the International Space Station could continue.

The senator, who is the frontrunner thus far for the Democratic presidential nomination, issued a position paper saying she "is committed to a space exploration program that involves robust human spaceflight to complete the Space Station and later human missions," and also backs "expanded robotic spaceflight probes of our solar system leading to future human exploration."

The Democratic candidate also pledged support of NASA science programs, which critics say are withering as money is diverted to develop the next-generation U.S. spacecraft in the Constellation Program: the Orion crew exploration vehicle, a space capsule, and the Ares rocket to loft Orion into space. However, NASA leaders flatly deny those charges, saying that ample financial resources have been provided for research and development and science programs.

Clinton stated that she "will speed development, testing, and deployment of next-generation launch and crew exploration vehicles to replace the aging Space Shuttle," without specifically mentioning the Orion-Ares program.

As well, Clinton pledged to prevent a brain drain from the space program, which will shut down and not exist for half a decade, from the 2010 retirement of the existing space shuttle fleet until the 2015 first flight of the Orion-Ares space system.

Clinton thus agrees with the view of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, many key lawmakers, analysts, academics, industry leaders and others that the United States faces great peril in permitting its space program to disappear for half a decade.

During that gap, the United States won’t even be able to place one astronaut into low Earth orbit, a situation that Griffin terms "unseemly." Instead, NASA will have to depend on the Russians, private space companies or perhaps European or Japanese vehicles for transportation to the space station, which was built largely with U.S. funds.

Worse, Griffin and others say that when the United States no longer is launching missions to space, jobs will disappear and interest in the space program will wane, so that the task of attracting another generation of workers to the program will become formidably difficult, just as an older generation of NASA and industry workers is about to retire.

A loss of irreplaceable expertise, which occurred previously during a space program gap in the 1970s, can’t be countenanced again, Clinton asserts.

She promised to "capitalize on the expertise of the current shuttle program workforce and will not allow a repeat of the ‘brain drain’ that occurred between the Apollo and shuttle missions," according to an Oct. 4 Hillary for President position paper.

And she wants NASA to have solid support as it attempts to develop new programs in space.

But Clinton on that point may have her work cut out for her, if she becomes president, because the Bush administration and Congress haven’t provided sufficient funds to pay for that Constellation Program space system development, and also to continue other NASA aeronautics and research/science programs. (Please see full story in this issue.)

She said they have received short shrift in funding for years, and said she would "promote scientific discovery in research, medicine and space exploration."

U.S. competitors mustn’t be permitted to gain an edge in those fields that would see them advance ahead of the United States, she said.

"I believe we have to change course — and I know America is ready," she asserted. "What America achieved after [the Soviet Union launched the first satellite in space], Sputnik, is a symbol of what America can do now as we confront a new global economy, new environmental challenges, and the promise of new discoveries in medicine. America led in the 20th century — and with new policies and a renewed commitment to scientific integrity and innovation, America is ready to lead in the 21st."

Clinton said her administration would restore scientific integrity by supporting the independent work of government scientists, promoting innovation and medical research, and by returning to evidence-based decision-making.

She also said if elected she would appoint an assistant to the president for science and technology policy and strengthen the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Overall, she would aim to enhance "American leadership in space through investments in exploration, earth sciences, and aeronautics research."

Another area she addressed is space-based Earth sciences, including satellites, where she sounded a warning that these programs are decaying.

She cited a National Academy of Sciences report released in January that found that "[a]t a time of unprecedented need, the nation’s Earth observation satellite programs, once the envy of the world, are in disarray." The report of the Decadal Survey Panel noted that "incredibly, the number of operating sensors and instruments on NASA satellites that observe the Earth is likely to drop by 35 percent by 2010 and 50 percent by 2015," she noted.

"Among other things, NASA’s Earth Sciences program is vital to our country’s — and the world’s — long-term efforts to confront climate change," the paper noted, adding that she would "fully fund NASA’s Earth Sciences program and initiate a Space-based Climate Change Initiative to help us secure the scientific knowledge we need to combat global warming and to prepare for extreme climate events."

Clinton also decried a deep cut in NASA aeronautics spending. "At the beginning of this year, President Bush requested roughly $554 million for NASA’s aeronautics research budget, down from more than $1 billion in 2004," the paper noted.

"The United States has enjoyed a positive trade balance in aeronautics and aerospace technologies that runs into the tens of billions, even as we’ve faced a growing overall trade deficit," the paper observed. "To address the twin challenges of a declining skilled aeronautics workforce and increasing global competition in aeronautics, [the senator] will make the financial investments in research and development necessary to shore up and expand our competitive edge. She will also work in partnership with industry to build technologies and capabilities that yield benefits far beyond aerospace."

Republicans Don’t Push Mars Mission

While Clinton supports the U.S. space program, it received a much cooler reception from Republican presidential candidates during a debate Wednesday at St. Petersburg, Fla.

A viewer asked whether the Republican candidates would support Bush’s vision of manned missions to Mars, and whether they would promise to send a manned mission to the red planet by 2020.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he didn’t wish to make that call, though he said he would "expand" NASA.

"Whether we ought to go to Mars is not a decision that I would want to make," Huckabee said, "but I would certainly want to make sure that we expand the space program, because every one of us who are sitting here tonight have our lives dramatically improved because there was a space program."

For example, he observed, the space program has provided myriad electronic devices — transistors, and then computer chips, that were developed for the space program — and NASA efforts also have yielded other everyday benefits, such as the Global Positioning System helps to guide motorists through unfamiliar areas.

In closing, Huckabee couldn’t resist a partisan shot, however: he said if the United States does send missions to explore the solar system, "maybe Hillary could be on the first rocket to Mars."

Another GOP presidential hopeful was flatly hostile to the space program.

With the government budget awash in red ink, a manned mission to Mars is beyond our means, Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.) said.

If the government already is running a deficit, it can’t afford to spend money on a Mars mission, or on space exploration generally, Tancredo said. "That’s why we have such incredible problems with our [national] debt, because everybody’s trying to be everything to all people," Tancredo said.

"We can’t afford some things, and by the way, going to Mars is one of them."

The question about a manned Mars mission wasn’t given to other GOP candidates to answer. They included Sen. John McCain of Arizona, also a SASC member, and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

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