Many space advocates often complain that President Bush says little about NASA, being rather quiet about the space agency in the three and a half years since the unveiling of the Vision for Space Exploration. Well, today they got their wish: Bush answered a question about NASA during a town hall meeting in Cleveland. Here’s the question and answer from the official White House transcript (scroll down about half way to get to the relevant passage). It’s not exactly the most, umm, articulate response:
Q Mr. President, like this world-class health care institution [Bush visited the Cleveland Clinic before the town hall meeting], NASA Glenn is one of the crown jewels, along with the talented people there, in our new economy crown. As you know, we recently won the crew exploration vehicle contract. We’re very happy about that. Given all the competing demands for resources in Washington, what kind of funding do you see for NASA and its mission going forward?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. That’s an awkward question to ask a Texan. (Laughter.) I think that NASA needed to become relevant in order to be — to justify the spending of your money, and therefore, I helped changed the mission from one of orbiting in a space shuttle — in a space station to one of becoming a different kind of group of explorers. And therefore, we set a new mission, which is to go to the moon and set up a launching there from which to further explore space.
Notice the President’s distillation of the Vision: “go to the moon and set up a launching there from which to further explore space.” It plays up one aspect of the original speech about the Vision—establishing a base there to serve as a site (or, in the President’s terminology, “a launching”) from which to stage missions elsewhere in the solar system—that was criticized by some people who otherwise supported the Vision, seeing such a use as ineffective or infeasible.
But wait, there’s more:
And the reason I did that is, I do want to make sure the American people stay involved with — or understand the relevance of this exploration. I’m a big — I support exploration, whether it be the exploration of new medicine — that would be like NIH grants — the exploration of space through NASA. I can’t give you the exact level of funding.
So much for a direct answer to the question. And finally:
I would argue with you that we got a lot of money in Washington — not argue, I’ll just tell you, we got a lot of money in Washington. (Laughter.) And we need to make sure we set priorities with that money. One of the problems we have in Washington is that unlike the books I saw at the hospital — of which, you’re on the board — that said “results”, we’re not very good about measuring results when we spend your money. A lot of time the program sound nice; a lot of time the results don’t match the intentions.
So one of the things I’ve tried to do through the OMB is to be results-oriented, and when programs don’t meet results, we try to eliminate them. And that’s hard to do. Isn’t it, Steve? Yes. But, no — I believe in exploration, space exploration. And we changed the mission to make it relevant. Thanks.
President Bush’s comments do suggest an interesting exercise: 42 months into the Vision for Space Exploration, how would you judge the “results” so far?