Using the lackluster response to a question about human Mars exploration in a recent Republican debate as a springboard, Daniel Handlin asks why candidates aren’t more proactive about space exploration policy issues in an article in this week’s issue of The Space Review. Noting Mike Huckabee’s statement that “Whether we ought to go to Mars is not a decision that I would want to make”, Handlin writes:
However, despite Hucakbee’s exceedingly poor choice of words, the reason Huckabee made his statement was obviously not because he has a fear of making decisions. His answer is, of course, code for “I would decide not to support a Mars mission by failing to support one actively,” which for space exploration is tantamount to actively deciding against supporting spaceflight. For the President to hold NASA’s budget flat for a few years would be enough to nix a Mars mission for another 10 or 15 years. But why does this escape attention in the media?
The root cause, Handlin argues, is not one of lack of public interest, but one of poor outreach by space advocates to the public, focusing on minutiae like choice of launch vehicles and propulsion systems than an overall vision of humanity in space:
In the end, the public—those who set the agenda by voting—doesn’t care whether the Ares 1 uses J-2Xs or SSME derivatives, or what kind of propellant the CEV uses. Most people have never heard of either of these vehicles. They care about the emotional impact of space exploration—the excitement of doing something new and wonderful—and that is what needs to be presented to the public.
So how should advocates present “the excitement of doing something new and wonderful”? And how effective would that strategy be in influencing presidential politics?