We interrupt the ongoing debate about the space policies (such as they may be) of the various presidential candidates for another space policy development: what the Democratic Senate candidates in Minnesota think about space. Earlier this month in Prior Lake, Minnesota, four candidates, including one nationally-known figure, Al Franken, participated in a debate that included, incredibly enough, a very general question about funding for NASA. (One of the earlier questions, to give you a feel for the wide-ranging nature of the debate, asked whether the US should have a Department of Peace.) The article summarized the candidates’ positions, but there’s also video of the debate (skip ahead to the 15-minute mark for the section on NASA) that allows for a little more thorough summary:
- Franken, one of two frontrunners for the Democratic (technically Democratic-Farmer-Labor, as it’s known in Minnesota) nomination against incumbent Republican Norm Coleman, said he favored NASA funding, although he did not specify at what level “It’s part of the human experience to be adventurers, to be pioneers,” he said, expressing his support for human and robotic spaceflight. “We’ve reaped tremendous benefits from the space program, in terms of innovation and technology.” He spent the rest of his time expressing his dismay for the “war on science” by the Bush Administration, including editing and suppression of climate change reports. He advocated legislation that would prohibit political appointees from editing scientific reports without the permission of the scientists who wrote them.
- Mike Ciresi, the other frontrunner, said, “Yes, I would support further funding of NASA,” but said that the level of funding would depend on other priorities. “NASA is going to be in there, but it may be a different level of spending than in the past.” He also spoke out against the perceived war on science by the current administration.
- Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer said he wanted to take the question about support for NASA “in a little different direction”. “Yes, I support research and development money that goes to NASA,” he said, particularly for global climate change studies. “But we also have to acknowledge that a lot of that NASA budget is designed to move forward in the militarization of space.” He didn’t specify exactly what NASA programs he thought were moving in that direction, but he did bring up a UN vote last year on space weaponization where the US was the only country to vote against it because “we have an active campaign and program to militarize space.” (The difference between “weaponization” and “militarization” appears to be a subtlety lost on him.) “So when we talk about support for NASA, of course we want to support aspects of NASA,” he concluded. “I am absolutely opposed to any country unilaterally deciding that it has the right to militarize space against the wishes against the rest of the world.” (That got one of the loudest rounds of applause from the audience in the debate.)
- “I support the NASA budget increases and funding for it,” Jim Cohen said. “It’s exciting, it nurtures exploration, adventure, it helps inspire our children in school, maybe even helps build toys and so forth for kids.” He recalled the excitement of the Apollo 11 landing in 1969 and how that excitement had been lost since then. “The NASA funding hasn’t been balanced, as Jack [Nelson-Pallmeyer] referred to,” he said. “We need to take a look at that budget from how much is being spent towards research and development of militarizing our space.” He also said that technology developed by NASA should be shared “with the rest of the world.”