On Obama and Space Policy

For some time, I’ve had one great reservation with Barack Obama as a potential President.

Obama wanted to gut NASA, taking the funds for Constellation, the successor to the space shuttle, and channel them into funding education. One analysis of Obama’s education plan likened it to Hernando Cortez burning his boats when he landed in Mexico in 1519 and a tactical blunder.

Fortunately, Obama is making noises that he has reconsidered his position. From a speech Obama delivered in Florida last week:

When I was growing up, NASA inspired the world with achievements we are still proud of. Today, we have an administration that has set ambitious goals for NASA without giving NASA the support it needs to reach them. As a result, they’ve had to cut back on research, and trim their programs, which means that after the Space Shuttle shuts down in 2010, we’re going to have to rely on Russian spacecraft to keep us in orbit.

We cannot cede our leadership in space. That’s why I will help close the gap and ensure that our space program doesn’t suffer when the Shuttle goes out of service by working with Senator Bill Nelson to add at least one additional Space Shuttle flight beyond 2010; by supporting continued funding for NASA; by speeding the development of the Shuttle’s successor; and by making sure that all those who work in the space industry in Florida do not lose their jobs when the Shuttle is retired – because we cannot afford to lose their expertise.

More broadly, we need a real vision for space exploration. To help formulate this vision, I’ll reestablish the National Aeronautics and Space Council so that we can develop a plan to explore the solar system – a plan that involves both human and robotic missions, and enlists both international partners and the private sector. And as America leads the world to long-term exploration of the moon, Mars, and beyond, let’s also tap NASA’s ingenuity to build the airplanes of tomorrow and to study our own planet so we can combat global climate change. Under my watch, NASA will inspire the world, make America stronger, and help grow the economy here in Florida.

One analysis of this speech suggests that this is merely campaign rhetoric, if Obama has a real chance of winning Florida in November.

I’d like to think that it’s more than just campaign rhetoric.

I keep thinking of that scene in The Right Stuff where the Mercury 7 see the capsule for the first time. “No bucks, no Buck Rogers,” says Gus Grissom, when he sees that the Mercury capsule has no windows, when the Mercury 7 astronauts realize they’re not going to be pilots, that they’re just intended to be “spam in a can.”

Obama seems to have come around, to the realization that no NASA, which is what his previously announced education policy amounts to, won’t be inspirational. I hope he’s come around.

No bucks, no Buck Rogers.

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