White House

How important is presidential space policy?

That’s the question I consider in an article in this week’s issue of The Space Review. It’s based on a forum earlier this month on the topic organized by the Marshall Institute. Many space advocates have looked to the presidency to provide leadership to make bold new projects happen, citing the success of President Kennedy’s declaration that the US would land men on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. That, though, appears to be a historical anomaly, and today presidential space policy is limited more to tweaking existing policies, with a few exceptions (like the Vision for Space Exploration.) In fact, the current administration has, unlike its predecessors all the way back to Jimmy Carter, has yet to release a comprehensive national space policy document, relying instead on topic-specific policies like the VSE. That lack of a policy, though, doesn’t seem to be hindering NASA, as one speaker noted: “I don’t think Mike Griffin has to look to the White House for what he needs from a policy standpoint.”

11 comments to How important is presidential space policy?

  • Bill White

    Something President Bush has done right (IMO) is give Mike Griffin a fair amount of independence, and distance. This gives Griffin a real chance to remain NASA Administrator after January 2009 and to build consensus across the partisan divide.

    I have little doubt that Griffin is already working on the Congressional contacts needed to lobby for NASA funding no matter who is in the White House.

  • Dennis Ray Wingo


    You don’t consider Marburger’s speech an example of a high level policy on space? Or the President’s VSE speech?

    Reagan did not have to do anything more than this to “set the policy” that led to ISS.


  • I don’t particulary see how we can take global warming and climate change denier’s statements seriously at all. Denying science leads to a serious lack of credibility. That group of science denialists includes Bush, S***burger and Wingo.

  • Jeff Foust


    In the article I did mention the VSE as an example of a topic-specific policy that the current administration has generated. The problem, as some see it, is that the administration has not wrapped up all these policies into a single, comprehensive, consistent policy that covers all the bases, including national security issues.

    As for the Marburger speech, it is interesting, particularly the reference to utilizing the resources of the solar system (the passage that gets the most attention from space advocates, I think.) But is it policy, or a trial balloon? Has there been any sign to date by the administration that they intend to follow up on that speech with more concrete measures?

  • Matthew Corey Brown

    *IF* the president is a one of us advocates for space. And there is some things to support the notion he is. Then the crap he is in now, is not something he would want to briong over to space by association.

    Let’s face it if he anncounces an endorsed Space Policy now, his ratings will get even lower. And Space becaomes a easy political target itn this years election.. On both sides of the aisle, from those republicans that want to distance themself from the president and keep their seat. ANd those Democrats wanting to get elected. ANd would kill what little progress that has been made so far. (COTS and the like)

  • I agree with Matthew. The best strategy for the VSE right now is to fight hard for funding but otherwise to keep a fairly low profile. The national politicians are more-or-less united on this being the way forward, and we should try to do nothing that upsets that.

    While I support the VSE’s priority over automated science, that why the way this was handled is such a disaster.

    — Donald

  • Dennis Ray Wingo

    Now Thomas, your Prozac is on the second shelf of your bathroom cabinet. Please go take some, as it seems that you are slacking off again.



  • Dennis Ray Wingo


    I liked your article (I wrote the first response before reading) and understand where you are coming from.

    Trial balloon? Who knows, it is consisent with the NASA budget and the American Competitiveness Initiative and so it probably is a defacto policy.


  • Bill White

    Lunar industrialization might go down easier with the rest of the world (at least the global public) if we trick them into thinking its their idea, not our idea. Induce the Europeans and Russians take the rhetorical lead and then step in with superior American technology. Using this approach, President Bush choosing to lay low on the topic would be exactly the right strategy.

    Same idea for working with the Democrats.

    Speaking of Ronald Reagan, I believe he once said something more or less to the effect that giving the other guy the credit was the best way to get something done. President Bush will deserve maximum credit for the VSE if he avoids seeking any real credit for the VSE.

  • Well put, Bill.

    Back to the question at hand, I think a Presidential role is not needed (and possibly counterproductive) for day-to-day continuance and management of most space activities. Spaceflight is sufficiently well integrated into our economy and national interests (in every sense) that it will go forward under almost any likely set of conditions. I think this is increasingly true even of human spaceflight.

    However, big new initiatives need Presidential action. In the absence of leadership from the top, neither Congress nor the Senate are likely to take so big an initiative as establishing a lunar base or an asteroidal mining outpost, let alone a Mars mission.

    While this will (but shouldn’t) be controversial, I also think it unlikely that commercial interests would take such a step without a government partner or encouragement. Private interests (e.g., Elon Musk, a religious organization, a large enough group of enthusiasts) might, if they can assemble the resources, but that is a big order for non-government organizations.

    — Donald

  • I’ll also agree with Bill and note one more thing. Some Democrats, for example Senator Barbara Mikulski, are already describing space, science, technology and education as areas of bipartisan support. She has publicly said she is working with even the Bush administration on these topics. Other Democrats are saying the same thing.

    It’s people like this that have led me, since I live in Maryland, to become active in Democratic Party politics. You might be surprised, but I’m managing to win people over to our views. Many in the Democratic Party already are favorably inclined toward space. More are ripe for recruiting.