Campaign '08

Edwards’ space policy platitudes

The blog “A Blog Around The Clock” (part of the Scienceblogs.com network) has an exclusive interview with Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards about science policy issues. One question is devoted to every’s favorite space agency:

3. If elected President, how would you balance the scientific research at NASA with the manned spaceflight program which, arguably, has dubious scientific value?

I am a strong supporter of our space program. It reflects the best of the American spirit of optimism, discovery and progress.

We need a balanced space and aeronautics program. We need to support solar system exploration as an important goal for our human and robotic programs, but only as one goal among several. And we need to invite other countries to share in a meaningful way in both the adventure and the cost of space exploration.

Not surprisingly, there’s nothing particularly detailed or profound in Edwards’ comments. His comments about the need for a “balanced” program echo those reportedly discussed at a Hillary Clinton event in DC last month. The comments about the “need to invite other countries” to participate is a little odd, since NASA is doing that already as part of the Vision for Space Exploration: is he seeking something more than what NASA is doing, or is he just unaware of those plans?

Other reactions?

20 comments to Edwards’ space policy platitudes

  • anonymous.space

    “The comments about the “need to invite other countries” to participate is a little odd, since NASA is doing that already as part of the Vision for Space Exploration”

    Yes and no. Deputy Administrator Dale has held conferences to get international input on far-future projects like the proposed lunar polar base and both Griffin and Dale have otherwise made the foreign rounds (including Griffin to China). But nothing substantive has come of those efforts, and Griffin has explicitely ruled out foreign participation in Constellation, effectively terminating any opportunities for foreign contributions to the human exploration elements of the Vision until after the first U.S. lunar landing.

    I seriously doubt that Edwards is aware of, nevertheless commenting on, the lack of near-term opportunities for foreign space agencies to contribute to the Vision. But Griffin’s policy regarding foreign involvement in Constellation is something that could be reversed under any new Administration. Assuming Columbus and JEM are up and to the extent ESAS decisions will get reworked anyway, the timing would be advantageous.

    FWIW…

  • richardb

    Remembering how I do Nasa’s assurances that Russia wasn’t on the critical path for the ISS and then having to totally depend upon Russia resources to keep the ISS viable during the Columbia standdown I think Nasa will ultimately be compelled to outsource critical pieces. Of course which pieces?
    Heavy Lift? Not likely if only for logistics let alone Congress would balk at helping another country develop a national asset at taxpayer expense.
    Orion? Already contracted
    CLV? Already contracted
    LSAM? Possible, but logistics will be a bear for transport to cape. Even worse, no country has relevant capabilities other than USA.

    These are the big expensive pieces to ESAS. Of these LSAM is the only possible outsource. If we were to do it however, I nominate China for their low cost. Let see how that would sit with Congress.

  • I freely acknowledge it was a punt. I wish he would’ve talked a little about the emerging NewSpace, but I suspect that the interviewer didn’t really know about it, and its quite possible that Senator Edwards doesn’t know much about it.

  • …its quite possible that Senator Edwards doesn’t know much about it.

    Gee, ya think?

    Why would Edwards (or, to be fair, anyone other than Gingrich, who isn’t formally running) know or care anything about space policy? It’s not politically important.

  • Rand – with regards to presidential canadates and their views on space, I agree – its not really politically important for them. I’ve never claimed otherwise. Space policy generally gets treated with benign neglect, whether its a canadate, or even an administration.

    I would argue (on the Democratic side) that Richardson has some feel for it (considering spaceport America), and Clinton is aware of it (her recent forum/fundraiser about space policy), and Gore does a little bit as well (although he falls in the catagory with Newt, who isn’t formally running).

    But for those who have actually taken a position, and care about it? They really don’t exist (although Kucinich has made some noise as well).

  • MarkWhittington

    I doubt that Edwards has thought much about things space. It dwells in that other America (which doesn’t get thousand dollar hair cuts).

  • anonymous

    “Orion? Already contracted
    CLV? Already contracted”

    The point I was trying to make is that Ares I and Orion (especially Orion) didn’t have to be done that way, and given the increasing probability these vehicles are going to get revisited anyway, their successors don’t have to be redone that way in the future. At a minimum, foreign subsystem contributions to Orion could be considered, and it’s arguably advantageous to design Orion to launch on one or more foreign vehicles. Such foreign involvement will add an additional layer to the system’s overall cost, but foreign contributions should lower the cost to U.S. taxpayers, generate a solid and early foreign policy justification for the program, and increase operational resilience (as the Ruskies have done for ISS).

    “LSAM? Possible, but logistics will be a bear for transport to cape. Even worse, no country has relevant capabilities other than USA.”

    Again, I’d look for subsystems (along the lines of the Canadian robotic arms or various European and Japanese pressure vessels), rather than the whole vehicle. Even modest ground comm and ops capabilities can help in big ways.

    “Heavy Lift? Not likely…”

    I agree that this is probably the least likely avenue for foreign cooperation. Nations tend to like their launch vehicles to launch from their territory, for a number of real and political reasons. That will be even more true for a heavy lift capability.

    “Remembering how I do Nasa’s assurances that Russia wasn’t on the critical path for the ISS and then having to totally depend upon Russia resources to keep the ISS viable during the Columbia standdown I think Nasa will ultimately be compelled to outsource critical pieces… Congress would balk at helping another country develop a national asset at taxpayer expense… Of these LSAM is the only possible outsource. If we were to do it however, I nominate China for their low cost.”

    I’m nitpicking, but you’re conflating foreign contributions (which other nations pay for) with arrangements where NASA pays for foreign capabilities, either in cash or through ISS barter agreements. Assuming ESAS decisions do get revisited, presumably and hopefully we’ll pursue the former, not the latter.

    “I nominate China for their low cost. Let see how that would sit with Congress.”

    [snicker, snicker]

    Hard to pass up that demonstrate record of Ruskie reliability, though.

  • One benefit of a more modular architecture, like the ones I’ve been advocating (either using orbital assembly or drylaunch with orbital refueling) is that they are a lot more flexible than closed architectures like Constellation. For instance, while for a drylaunch style mission, you’d baseline the system to work with Atlas V and Delta IV sized payloads. However if you set things up right, that would mean that you could also use launches from commercial or foreign sources (Dragon/Falcon IX,Kistler K-1, Ariane V, Soyuz, Proton, Zenit, Long March, etc) without any one launch provider being mission critical. You could even take advantage of future advances like small commercial RLVs or PROFAC-like heterospheric atmosphere harvesting schemes (if they turn out to be technically feasible), without having to bet the main mission on them coming to fruition.

    If China or Japan or Europe or India want to send an astronaut on one of the teams, they can contribute one or more propellant launches, or a mission module, or some hardware, etc. If the propellant depot is privately owned and in a good inclination, it could buy propellants from anyone and resell them to NASA (which gets around the whole “want to buy American” bias NASA has–they would be buying American, from a company that buys globally).

    There are probably other ways that commercial and international cooperation and participation could’ve been better fostered by NASA’s implementation fo the VSE. Maybe once I’ve got this thesis done I can put some of those ideas to paper.

    ~Jon

  • Anonymous

    “The comments about the “need to invite other countries” to participate is a little odd, since NASA is doing that already as part of the Vision for Space Exploration: is he seeking something more than what NASA is doing, or is he just unaware of those plans?”

    I think it’s the former. Meaningful international participation clearly has become a standard Dem talking point. It’s partly a recognition that NASA under Mike Griffin only grudgingly invited the internationals to the table.

    Perhaps more importantly, it’s consistent with the Dem pledge to drop the unilaterilism of the past seven years and seek to repair the United States’ image around the world. So $400 haircuts for every man, woman, and child in America. $120 billion well spent.

  • richardb

    If my memory is correct, Griffin said years ago that the USA would own the critical path to the Moon but all else is up for grabs between US contractors and the internationals. So the US owns getting to and from the Moon as well as comm. Power, environmental systems, in situ efforts, science hardware, surface systems such as rovers and the like are examples of international collaboration.

    I don’t see anything wrong with this at all and I welcome any candidate to find fault with it. Let them say where US taxpayers are spending too much money for US programs at the expense of foreign workers.

  • anonymous.space

    “If my memory is correct, Griffin said years ago that the USA would own the critical path to the Moon but all else is up for grabs between US contractors and the internationals. So the US owns getting to and from the Moon as well as comm. Power, environmental systems, in situ efforts, science hardware, surface systems such as rovers and the like are examples of international collaboration.

    I don’t see anything wrong with this at all”

    In theory, there is nothing wrong with this approach. In practice, it has problems, especially in the near-term. Until the U.S. delivers or is close to delivering on those transportation and communications systems sometime in the latter half of the next decade (if the effort gets that far), there’s nothing for foreign partners to contribute to. Although the VSE makes a big deal about international cooperation, ESAS/Griffin implementation has essentially terminated the potential for any international contributions until the 2015-2020 time period, at the earliest.

    If you don’t care about international cooperation, that’s still not a big deal. But to the extent that the program needs a foreign policy rationale to help justify its spending in the near-term or to the extent that the program needs to share costs with other nations (and I’d argue that it needs both), an all-U.S. system with no international involvement is not necessarily a good thing.

    “and I welcome any candidate to find fault with it. Let them say where US taxpayers are spending too much money for US programs at the expense of foreign workers.”

    Speaking as a taxpayer, voter, and space cadet, I’d much rather have lower taxes because County A, B, and C are also contributing to the lunar return effort than higher taxes because of some misbeggotten policy decision that confuses space exploration with industrial subsidies. Our civil space program should first and foremost be about rolling back the frontiers of space exploration, science, and technology — not about how many engineers we can keep employed in certain congressional districts.

    FWIW…

  • richardb

    I agree about getting the best value, regardless of where. I don’t have a vote in Congress nor do I believe that Congress has my viewpoint. So I think the argument of spending it here is the law of the land, as you no doubt already know.

    Has anyone read about ESA, the Russians or Chinese having flush accounts for lunar outposts? Those agencies asking Nasa where they can contribute?

    My guess is there is little overseas money available for the next 10 years. ISS is just now getting to be a useful return to the Euro’s and Japanese. They’ll want to recoup their investment before sailing off to Fra Mauro.

  • Ryan Zelnio

    “Has anyone read about ESA, the Russians or Chinese having flush accounts for lunar outposts? Those agencies asking Nasa where they can contribute?”

    ESA is committed to their Mars strategy right now and is none to interested. I talked with Frederic Nordlund, their rep here in DC, at a CSIS event last month and they are sitting on the sidelines for now waiting to see what will happen in Nov 2008. Japan is definitely interested in contributing are happy to take whatever work we give em. Though right now their funds are tied up to ISS commitments.

    Russia will refuse to take the subservient role on VSE that NASA is trying to give them. They are concentrating their efforts on trying to work closer with the Europeans on developing a possible program with them without the US. not to say that the EU is big on that exactly, but watch closely to how well they integrate Soyuz in Guiana.

    The Chinese will just continue on their merry path as neither the US nor the EU is talking much about cooperating with them on something of that scale.

    I agree whole-heartedly with anonymous in the without a strong international relations angle, the long term health of VSE is low. The problem with NASA right now getting that angle is that they are not able to come to grips with the fact that they can no longer dictate the terms of the agreement. They want total control and to keep the critical path. Both EU and Russia are unwilling to give the US that role. Both are insisting that they be viewed as full partners in any large scale endeavor. They will only come on board if there is a true, integrated approach to establishing a lunar colony.

    In judging presidential candidates, the question I think that is most important to ask them is not their philosophy on space per se, but what is their philosophy on international collaboration for r&d? Do they see a global community working together to accomplish great things or do they see the need for an individual nation to attempt to attempt to cling onto a technological superiority that is rapidly diminishing?

  • richardb

    “Do they see a global community working together to accomplish great things or do they see the need for an individual nation to attempt to attempt to cling onto a technological superiority that is rapidly diminishing?”

    This question should be asked of the EU, Russia, China and the others interested in this great endeavor, not just Nasa and Congress.

    To some extent this is the chicken or the egg conundrum.

    I think it is true that VSE won’t survive without other countries actively participating and lobbying Congress. But I don’t see them committing until they see the US committing. That will only occur when we have hardware in production such as Ares V or its capability in some other guise. That will be a very long wait. Much can change in the next 10 years before Ares V would optimistically be ready. So if the US doesn’t commit to CLV, Orion, Ares V why would the international think the US is serious?
    In the mean time, without International sponsorship Congress will want to see what Nasa will do with the shiny rockets it is asked to fund. Nasa saying it will own the critical path insulates it from Congress accusing them of not having a plan. The worst thing for Nasa is to say, “What will we do with these rockets? Well we’re working with the Russians, Europeans, Japanese, Indians on that and we’ll get their plans to the committee just as soon as we know what they are.”

  • This is clearly going further afield from Sen. Edwards’ comments, but it bears noting that “international cooperation” in and of itself is a fairly vacuous policy tenet.

    Should we cooperate internationally on the human exploration/development/settlement of the inner solar system? Almost certainly, but HOW? Just as importantly: we should be clear on WHY. what specifically will that get us? are circumstances/events really likely to ‘turn out’ that way?

  • anonymous.space

    “it bears noting that “international cooperation” in and of itself is a fairly vacuous policy tenet”

    I agree with the sentiment. Foreign participation, without further definition, is a means, not an end.

    That said, maintaining foreign commitments can be a very powerful political rationale for meeting domestic budget commitments to a project. For example, I’d argue that European and Japanese contributions to the ISS partnership have forced the U.S. to continue ISS buildout long after ISS deployment ceased being the top priority for NASA human space flight — and at a cost to the U.S. that far exceeds the cost of those foreign contributions.

    Of course, to your point, ideally we would not get caught in these kinds of empty or costly partnerships in the future. A foreign partnership should do more than just provide a rationale for a program — it should also deliver a concrete, material benefit. The claimed benefits can be to the program itself, such as shared subsystem costs and the resulting cost savings to the U.S. (most science missions), or operational resiliency (as the Ruskies have provided to the ISS). Or the claimed benefits can be external to the program (such as keeping former Soviet aerospace engineers engaged in peaceful pursuits rather than missile proliferation by bringing Russia into the ISS partnership).

    FWIW…

  • I think that NASA keeping the Europeans, Russians, Chinese, et al., out of Constellation is probably a good thing for long-term space exploration efforts. We have already seen the Europeans get a little nervous about getting left out of the manned spaceflight game and so reconsider their own focus on manned spaceflight (which hasn’t been a big deal since Hermes was canceled a decade ago).

  • Brad

    ‘A Blog Around the Clock’ was clearly fishing for an answer hostile to manned spaceflight from John Edwards. It’s heartening to see Edwards not take that bait and instead support manned space exploration. On the other hand it was disheartening to see Edwards roll out the code words of ‘balanced spending’ and ‘international cooperation’, which means cutbacks in spending for manned spaceflight and tying space policy to foreign policy goals rather than space policy goals.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Well Brad, having something other than all Orion all the time would be better, and would be a good balance.

    And after the wonderful words from this president regarding Nasa being relevent, I suspect this will be a good change.

  • [...] article has been published elsewhere: the statement from the John Edwards campaign, for example, was published back in July, while the Mitt Romney statement came from an August visit to Florida’s Space Coast. Of [...]

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