I received a PDF of Barack Obama’s space platform, and I think I should make it available here: Barack Obama’s Space Platform.
All such platforms have “code words” that let interested parties know what the candidate believes. As I work in the industry, I’m probably a good person to help decipher those for you. After all, I was ready to not vote for the man because of his views, just as I voted with my job four years ago. So, here are some thoughts that came to me as I read through the PDF; if you’ve got questions after reading the below, feel free to ask in the comments!
- Initial cut is promising, as he mentions Kennedy. Whatever else his other failings, NASA nerds love JFK.
- The Challenge states the problem pretty well, but it tries to argue that this is a Bush problem; yes, and no. How this Administration has funded NASA hasn’t exactly made me happy, but hey, it’s better than the Dan Goldin years. Obama’s campaign is right, though, that cuts in NASA’s non-exploration tasks have been far too drastic—and I say that as someone who firmly believes that manned exploration is very important and hates the robots über alles attitude of JPL.
- I like the idea of pushing NASA science to help us understand things here. That’s honestly the truth, and the cuts made were too drastic. Plus, it fits into Obama’s larger mindset of where this country needs to go.
- Reviving the NASC can’t hurt, and will probably help.
- Re: Closing the Gap: You can call this a flip-flop, but I just don’t care—recognizing that you were wrong and that there are better ideas is something we haven’t seen out of the White House in far, far too long. [And I'm not just talking about Bush 43.] Also, the words about “foreign space capabilities” means “Russia”, for those not playing at home. Since, oh, that tiff with Georgia, we’ve all wondered about that around here. [And not just because some rednecks in Lower Alabama were polishing their guns, thinking the Red Bastards were about to invade Dothan.]
- Obama’s ISS stance is, “Hey! We built a big lab! Let’s use it for science!” Well, yes. ISS has always been about engineering, on-orbit construction, and international cooperation [except with those pesky Chinese, who won't be allowed to dock], but when you’re done with it … dammit, it better be about more than providing The Big Picture with pretty photos of hurricanes. But after saying all that stuff about “foreign space capabilities” before, Obama notes that ISS was also a jobs program for Russian rocket scientists in the 1990s. And that, folks, is probably why the Iranians can’t nuke us today.
- Human space exploration: he wants ESA or JAXA to make a manned push so it’s not just us, the Russians, and the Chinese. Makes sense. I prefer JAXA—the Japanese make better aerospace decisions. [Note: my company and my group specifically work with JAXA contractors.]
- Robotic exploration: let’s make California happy. [Okay, so it's also a very good idea.]
- Studying the Earth: let’s not lie anymore about global warming not being legit. But I also hope that “no political interference” means Dr. John Christy still has a voice at the national table.
- Aeronautics research: This has three benefits: the stated one, giving Ohio and California NASA centers something to do, and gets Glenn way the hell out of manned spacecraft design. I would comment more, but … that would be imprudent. Anyhow, NASA has centers of excellence, and Ames and Glenn should do their jobs instead of being forced into realms with which they are unfamiliar just because Bush only funds VSE.
- International Cooperation: Be nice to ESA, keep space de-weaponized, and be wary of the Chinese. All worthy goals. Also, seems ideal towards keeping the Russians involved and engaged, which is a good thing for overall relations.
- New Technologies: Yawn. NASA’s PR machine sucks about noting the benefits, and it’s cliché to say “derived from NASA technology!” I don’t think anyone gives a damn anymore because we don’t do anything exciting.
- That said, the bits about ITAR restriction relieving are good [and not just because it makes my task as an Export Control monitor easier; hell, it'll probably get harder as the rules change], and pushing the skill-base expansion is my main point from my screed back in March: “Raiding NASA’s budget to fund education is like sponsoring the US Olympic Team but then not sending them to Beijing this summer.”
- Education: always important. I ended up in this field because I was excited about it as a child and focused my entire academic career towards it. I find far too many of my peers these days to not have that same … drive. That scares me some.
So, reading this policy document makes me think that Obama has it right. If anyone has access to McCain’s space platform, I’ll go through it the same way. I think it’s safe to say that I’m wholeheartedly behind Obama at this point, and this makes it easier for me.