Are the key participants in the national space policy debate, and the tools they use, undergoing change? That’s at the core of an article by Kathleen Connell in this week’s issue of The Space Review. Connell sees three “structural shifts” taking place that could reshape—for better or worse—the relative importance of space policy and the size and nature of NASA’s budget: the emergence of a new class of “space consumers” thanks to personal spaceflight companies, the use of new online tools to loosely organize “virtual crowds” on topics of interest or concern, and a growing appreciation of the role of space to study and even mitigate climate change. “Those would-be space leaders who understand the dynamic intersection of empowered public will, interactive technology, space consumption, and global warming will best be able to guide NASA into the second decade of the 21st century,” she concludes. “Should they also embrace these facets of the future, a future that has already arrived, they will find themselves with the credibility to also make the case for increasing budgets and increasingly robust space exploration initiatives as well.”
So how powerful and imminent are those structural shifts? It will probably take some time for the first to emerge, and even then the population of “space consumers” will remain very small relative to the overall population. The second is clearly taking place now in politics in general, although it has yet to take root effectively in space politics. And as for the third, one need only look at Hillary Clinton’s proposed space policy and the comments by others, like John Edwards, for a “balanced” space program to see that earth sciences, including climate change, will take on a larger role in the ’08 election and beyond.