So, those who were/are my regular readers (as well as some Obama supporters who aren't regular readers) know that I have been pushing for Senator Obama to have a space policy, after he released his educational plan around Thanksgiving. Well, in the last few weeks, the Obama campaign has begun to rectify that. First, on Jan 2nd, Lisa Ellman, Obama's policy director, issued the following statement,
Obama believes we should continue developing the next generation of space vehicles, and complete the international space station. While Obama would delay plans to return to moon and push on to mars, Obama would continue unmanned missions, and use NASA to monitor the forces and effects of climate change, support scientific research, and maintain surveillance to strengthen national security. Obama also believes we need to keep weapons out of space.
And on Thursday, this week, the Senator released a full policy statement. Come over the fold, and I'll give you my thoughts
Below is the text, followed by my thoughts.
Develop the Next-Generation of Space Vehicles: The retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010 will leave the United States without manned spaceflight capability until the introduction of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) carried by the Ares I Launch Vehicle. As president, Obama will support the development of this vital new platform to ensure that the United States' reliance on foreign space capabilities is limited to the minimum possible time period. The CEV will be the backbone of future missions, and is being designed with technology that is already proven and available.
This is perhaps my greatest (or at least 2nd greatest) problem with his proposal - he specifically endorses developing the CEV, and the Ares I. The Ares I is a terrible vehicle, that has fundamental, I repeat FUNDAMENTAL FLAWS, that will make it LESS safe than the shuttle, and potentially unflyable. And, because of the push to save Ares I, CEV is becoming dangerous as well. (And don't get me started on the pollution that comes from the Solid fuel).
The other thing worth noting is that there is no mention of the Ares V, or the Lunar lander, which has the implication that anything beyond earth orbit for the ESAS program won't happen, which means that CEV will be restricted to earth orbit, and probably providing access to the Space Station - this puts it in direct competition with things from the COTS program, like Dragon/Falcon 9, and Dreamchaser, just to name a few. These are vehicles that will likely fly before CEV ever comes close to flying, and restricting it to earth orbit will hurt the development of a space market developing (like how the mail market helped the early aviation industry develop).
Complete the International Space Station: The International Space Station is an example of what we can accomplish through international cooperation. Barack Obama is committed to the completion of the International Space Station.
No real problem here, at least in general. Again, there is the issue of will/how commerical flights will work with the station. That was not addressed, however, I think I have already talked enough about that.
Continue Unmanned Missions: Robotic missions provide a level of endurance and cost-effectiveness that is unsurpassed. The Voyager probes, launched in the 1970s, are still sending back data beyond our solar system. Closer to home, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers have been exploring the surface of Mars for more than 1,300 days, 14 times longer than their intended mission length. Along with Earth-orbiting platforms like the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, unmanned missions have yielded some of the greatest scientific discoveries of the last century. Barack Obama is committed to a bold array of robotic missions that will expand our knowledge of the solar system and lay the foundations for further manned exploration.
The question is exactly when will that "further manned exploration" come. More to the point, however, Senator Obama seems to think the only thing that really comes out of space is scientific knowledge. The truth is, space has much more to offer, however, space is not just about science and knowledge. In fact, in a lot of respects, I'd love to see NASA move away from being a partial scientific agency - Nasa is at its foundation, a space agency, that does scientific exploration now and again.
Monitor the Forces and Effects of Climate Change: Barack Obama has proposed bold initiatives to put America on the path to stop global climate change. His administration will set standards based on rigorous scientific inquiry that, in turn, cannot take place without a capable space program. The task of researching and understanding the forces that affect our home planet will require a constellation of climate monitoring space platforms. As president, Obama will ensure that NASA has the funding necessary to play its part in the fight against global climate change.
I'm not going to say much more here. While ideally I'd argue that Earth science belongs in the domain of another agency, I also know just how precarious we are when it comes to the issue of global climate change.
Support Scientific Research: In the past, government funding for scientific research has yielded innovations that have improved the landscape of American life, technologies like the Internet, digital photography, bar codes, Global Positioning System technology, laser surgery, and chemotherapy. Today, we face a new set of challenges, yet the United States is losing its scientific dominance. Over the last three decades, federal funding for the physical, mathematical and engineering sciences has declined at a time when other countries are substantially increasing their own research budgets. Barack Obama believes federally funded scientific research should play an important role in advancing science and technology in the classroom and in the lab. He will work to diversify the makeup of the scientific community and provide federal research programs a much- needed infusion of funds.
Here I applaud the Senator. We need more scientific research, definitely. However, of even bigger concern, IMHO, is not just the basic scientific research, but the need to push toward developing technologies to the point that the average person can take advantage of them. More on this at the end.
Maintain Surveillance to Strengthen National Security: Orbiting surveillance satellites provide a vital way to ensure compliance with non-proliferation treaties and monitor emerging threats. For example, nuclear facility construction in North Korea and Iran can be closely monitored from above without the challenges faced by weapons inspectors on the ground. Satellites can be further used in the effort to secure loose nuclear weapons and materials around the world, an effort which Barack Obama has promoted aggressively in the U.S. Senate.
Keep Weapons out of Space: China's successful test of an anti-satellite missile in January 2007 signaled a potential new arms race in space. Barack Obama does not support the stationing of any weapons in space. He believes the international community must address the issue of space weaponization head-on and enter into a serious dialogue with Russia, China and other nations to stop this slow slide into a new battlefield.
I am lumping these two together, since they are both about national security in space. Space has proven vital to allowing us to monitor states of concern, countless times, and this will need to continue.
As for preventing space weaponization - on the one hand, I would love to imagine that we could keep weapons out of space. However, realistically, as we move into space, weapons will come (and there is good reason to suspect that they already have been in space). And, IMHO, the sooner we admit that, the sooner we can start dealing with the issues that are raised. (This is a lot like the issue of nuclear proliferation - we need to do everything we can to prevent it - the question is, can we actually prevent it?)
Strengthen Math and Science Education: Fifty years after Sputnik, science and math education in American schools is facing a crisis. As the Gathering Storm report concluded, "danger exists that Americans may not know enough about science, technology or mathematics to contribute significantly to, or fully benefit from, the knowledge-based economy that is already taking shape around us." Barack Obama will make math and science education a national priority, and provide our schools with the tools to educate 21st-Century learners.
* Recruit High-Quality Math and Science Teachers: Barack Obama's will establish a Teaching Service Scholarship program to recruit an army of new teachers. These scholarships will prioritize recruiting math, science and technology degree graduates. Obama will create Teacher Residency Programs to train teachers using mentorship, graduate study and hands-on training to develop 30,000 teachers a year, providing additional teachers in math and science. In addition, Obama will devote $100 million a year to Professional Development Schools to help new teachers, or veteran teacher needing to hone their skills, learn from professionals in the field. Professional Development Schools will partner universities with school sites that exhibit state-of-the-art practices and train new teachers in the classrooms of expert teachers while they are completing coursework.
* Enhanced Science Instruction: Barack Obama will work with governors to create flexible and workable systems for the states to achieve the goal of ensuring all children have access to strong a science curriculum at all grade levels. Obama will also support state efforts to make science education a priority at the pre-K level.
* Improve and Prioritize Science Assessments: Science assessments need to do more than test facts and concepts. They need to use a range of measures to test inquiry and higher-order thinking skills including inference, logic, data analysis and interpretation, forming questions, and communication. Barack Obama will work with governors and educators to ensure that state assessments measure these skills.
Okay, here's the thing - what exactly does this have to do with Space? I don't deny that its true, and there are serious issues in science and math education, but exactly what does this have to do with Space?
If the Senator is really talking about pursuing a program like the Teacher's in space whose primary website seems to be down, then I am all for that. However, I don't believe thats the case. So, excactly, what does this have to do with space?
My main complaint is in whats missing - there is absolutely no discussion about the potential for the commerical sector in space. This is where the real excitement within the space community exists - the development of real markets for putting people into space, and having routine access. To be fair, Senator Clinton has not mentioned commerical space either, but as the candidate of change, I would hope that Senator Obama would see this. With the developments coming from the NewSpace industry, we sit on the edge of major developments and changes, much like we saw with the internet in the 90s, and much like people expect with things like stem cell research.
Also missing is the issue of whether prizes will be utlized. The X Prize proved very successful in changing the nature of how we interact with space, and proving that "hobbyists" could become involved. And the Centennial Challenges program has also been shortchanged again this year, and thus I remain concerned.
Final thoughts and whats really needed
The truth is that this plan has serious problems IMHO. With no mention of commerical space, and specific mention supporting the terrible vehicle combination of CEV and Ares I, this plan would and will cause serious problems for any real push for further utilization and development of space.
The reality is that, in Washington, what is seen as the biggest space issue is the so called "gap", between when the Shuttle will be retired in 2010, and when the CEV is suppose to fly in 2014. The reality is that commercial space could do wonders here, but because of the Senators and Representatives from major space states, like Florida, Texas, and California, most members of Congress can't/don't want to believe that things could change.
Serious reforms are/will be needed at NASA, and the main issue will probably involve job cuts, that could be as painful as military base closure. I know this will not be popular with many people, but it will be needed if we want to really utilize space.
Finally, what does it mean for me as a voter? Well, 1 - It really doesn't change my thoughts on who I am voting for in the primary, because since I am in Michigan, my vote won't count in the primary (I haven't yet decided if I will vote uncommitted, or if I'll vote in the R primary, for Romney or Ron Paul), and I haven't really had a campaign I can volunteer for (and being a poor college student, I haven't had any money to donate to anyone). By and large, I have been undecided during this election, and this certainly hasn't helped the Senator, IMHO. As for who I'll vote for in the main election - I am a Democrat - I vote Democrat, and if the Senator is nominated, I will proudly support and help him (although I will constantly be trying to get his attention on this issue, with the hope of changing his opinion).
I really wish the Senator would come out with something better, because I do think he can be a great president. But this needs serious work.