Campaign '08

If space is a campaign issue, it’s a vague one

“For the first time in decades, space policy is emerging as a presidential campaign issue and, political strategists say, could become a decisive factor in the race to the White House,” starts an article yesterday in the Orlando Sentinel. The report is less of a recap of the candidates’ positions on space than the fact that they’re talking about the subject well in advance of the general election. “The last time space was an issue for presidential candidates this early in an election was in 1960,” Roger Launius of the National Air and Space Museum told the Sentinel.

The article crafts a scenario that would qualify as perhaps the ultimate fantasy for some space advocates. Florida is a swing state in the general election, and, within Florida, the “I-4 corridor” is a swing region within the state, as a briefing prepared by Dale Ketcham of the Univ. of Central Florida’s Space Research and Technology Institute mentioned in the article explains. Win the corridor and you can win the state; win the state and you can win the presidency. Thus, Ketcham and other space supporters in the region argue, the candidate with the stronger space policy is better positioned to win votes that could swing the election. (Nevermind that the Space Coast is just a small part of the I-4 Corridor, nor whether a policy that caters to the interests of the KSC region would also be beneficial to the nation in general.) Space policy becomes the lever that moves the world.

Ketcham added that he was not surprised that Hillary Clinton was the first major candidate to put forward a space policy. “There is nobody in the Clinton camp that does not understand the notion that electoral votes are key to getting into the White House,” he said. It is hard to argue with logic like that: after all, if anyone working for any candidate does not understand that basic tenet of the electoral process, they probably should quit the campaign and retake a civic class.

But if candidates are developing space policies to win key votes in Florida, they’re not doing a good job of it so far. As Florida Today notes in an article and accompanying editorial today, candidates have gotten into few specifics that might win over voters on the Space Coast. “Anyone hoping to hear the candidates express strong support for NASA’s plan to build new rocket and manned spacecraft fleets to return to the moon have been sorely disappointed,” the editorial complains. “It’s certain Florida will be a key battleground in the fall campaign, at which time the party nominees may realize the space program’s importance to our state and the nation. We certainly hope so.”

9 comments to If space is a campaign issue, it’s a vague one

  • Space policy becomes the lever that moves the world.

    And the lever that moves the lever is the people that are reading this post, speaking out to the candidates loud and clear that space exploration is a worthy goal to be funded and spoken of plainly in their campaign

  • But what is space exploration? Is it just science? Then why are we flying humans? Seriously? Is exploration some nebulous concept that is like porn? We know it when we see it, but we can’t put it into words? If so, then does the flight of SpaceShipOne count as exploration?

    I won’t say its the biggest problem, but using the word space exploration only invites the countless “unmanned vs manned” debate, which doesn’t help spaceflight at all.

    If we are going to make it relevent to the campaign, then we have to talk in terms that can be understood easily, and difficult to mis-understand. We need to be talking about human spaceflight in terms of development and colonization, and any discussion about “exploration” only invites problems.

  • Ferris, while I agree with your general thrust here, the word “colonization” has a lot of negative historic connotations. Many here will argue that this is “politically correct” nonesense (and I wouldn’t totally disagree with them), but it brings instant revulsion to the minds of many people whose at least tacit support we will need if this is going to happen. I would use “migration” which, in in any case, is a more accurate term for what I think you and I want, in the sense that early humans “migrated” over the surface of the Earth.

    — Donald

  • Donald – I personally don’t care whether people use the phrase settlement, or migration, or colonization. All are roughly the same. I do prefer the phrase colonization, for the simple fact that, in my mind, of the 3 phrases, colonization implies the greatest number of people going to and living in space.

    But I have no problem with other phrases. I’ll probably use colonization, unless it really pisses people off.

  • Habitat Hermit

    Space exploration is both.

    That’s the answer to that silly debate. That’s how simple it is unless one is desperate to try a “divide and conquer” approach.

    Throwing in a false dichotomy between colonization and exploration only brings up an even less sensible debate at an earlier stage.

  • Habitat – the problem with exploration IMHO, is that because its a catch all, its a phrase that can be appropriated by anyone, and therefore it is at the very best meaningless, but much more commonly, it forces us into the manned vs unmanned debate, because its inherently tied to funding. Science has, for better or worse, tied the idea of space science as fundementally the main part of space exploration. You ask a scienctist what exploration was done on the SS1 flights, they’ll probably say none. And yes, its quite arguable that no science was involved. But at the same time, one could argue that it was a part of exploration. So, as I said, its a catch all phrase that I think hurts us, by forcing us into the unmanned manned debate.

    However, if, instead we use the phrases space science, space development, and space colonization (or settlement, or migration – take your pick), we move the debate into an entirely different, and I would argue, more productive direction. It gets us to the real, underlying purpose of spaceflight, whether manned or unmanned. And a discussion about the purpose of spaceflight is actually better for us.

    Because, at the end of the day, the purposes of manned flight vs unmanned flight do serve fundamentally different purposes. And so, instead of drawing from the “Space Exploration budget”, and being forced into funding 2 programs from 1 small budget, we can legitmatly argue that this is something that desreves its own budget, and therefore should have direct access to the entire federal budget.

    By and large that is a battle we’ll probably lose (at least in terms of getting manned spaceflight its own line in the federal budget) , BUT telling people that opens up the debate about the purpose of spaceflight, and opens their mind up to a different way of thinking. It turns the ROI from space from being just dependent upon the amount of science returned, to something broader, and perhaps even directly economical (espcially when we talk about space development).

    To put it another way. There is a lot of discussion about School lunch programs. Whether you think they are good or bad, there really isn’t necassary a lot of variation in how you measure results. More specifically, we don’t measure the success of a school lunch program by whether we have a working fusion reactor or not. We judge it on whether more kids have gotten enough to eat during the school day. And differentialting the purpose of the different spaceflights allows us to make the very same case.

    And yes, Donald, I know you argue that manned flight can produce mroe science – whether thats true or not, I don’t think will matter, if you make the kinds of arguments that we make.

  • Habitat Hermit

    If one wishes space issues would receive more attention then there is absolutely nothing wrong with talking about space exploration. Nor is there anything particularly wrong with using the phrases space science, space development, and space colonization. It’s your message, you decide.

    But as far as phrases go anything can be “appropriated” by anyone. If you say that makes it meaningless then that applies just as much to your own choice of phrases. You destroyed your own argument right there (this happened in the first sentence).

    In the same first sentence you also say “space exploration” forces us to go “manned or unmanned!?”. It would certainly seem that way ^_^ should we run in circles waving our arms too or is that uncalled for? ^_^

    I can’t stop smiling at the idea of such a Pavlovian response mechanism but I’m sure you’ll agree that it doesn’t actually force you, me, or anyone else to start such a debate ^_^

    In fact we can recognize that it’s a silly debate and just ignore it by acknowledging that both manned and unmanned exploration has value, sometimes interchangeable, often not.

  • Vladislaw

    Ferris, Do you want to colonize SPACE, or a SPACE BODY? America is already colonizing space with the ISS, it is a governmental body doing it not private enterprise, but it is colonizing none the less.

    To form or establish a colony or colonies in.
    To migrate to and settle in; occupy as a colony.

    If you are talking about colonizing a space body then we are a very long way from seeing any private enterprise doing it because as I have hammered on before, there is no established property rights. Current Space law forbids the ownership of space bodies by any government or companies. How many modern mining companies do NOT buy the land OR the mining rights FIRST before setting up a 100 million dollar mining operation? Do they just look out over the landscape and say “there must be copper there” and then start strip mining over towns and cities?

    When people colonize they go with the EXPRESS idea they will be the new O W N E R S of that land the colony sits on, they will personally OWN the resources sitting on the land they OWN.

    If the moon is OWNED by the PLANET earth, then all earthlings own it, or a piece of it, so if a mining company wants to buy the mining rights to shackelton crater who do they buy the rights from? What country’s mining rights does the company have to follow? South Africa’s ? The United States? If there is a mining rights claim that is contested, who’s court room and whos laws are MOST valid? If America’s NASA goes to the moon and starts setting up shop and they want commerical enterprises to follow can america say “you own those 10,000 acres and can mine all the oxygen you can” ? What will the commies think? Or Russia? They wont say “HEY THAT IS OUR LAND YOU ARE MINING!”

    Historically all colonization took place under monarchies and the divine right of kings, not democracies. Because of the “divine right of kings” a KING was able to GRANT land using ROYAL land grants. Can america, a republic, make a lunar land grant to someone? Can america say “This half of the moon is ours and as such we are making these land grants to commerical firms X, Y, and Z, to mine ice and oxygen” ? Or do they just spend 50 billion to land equipment and start mining and worry about the law later? If that is the case we will have to get rid of US system of jurisprudence and return to lexis talonus, The law of the claw.

    Sooner or later the moon is going to be carved up and bought and sold but before that happens we have to determine who owns it and how they are going to be compensated for the sale.

  • Ferris: I think we agree on the end goal. I know you argue that manned flight can produce more [and, more importantly, better]science. While my ultimate goal is “migration” (to use my word), I am not willing to concede the scientific ground to those who value only automation. One of the reasons that I consider this so important, and argue so strongly about it, is because I am one of the few (but certainly not the only one) making this argument. I believe that the majority opinion is dead wrong, certainly if you look beyond the next couple or three decades, so I am unwilling to be quiet and let that default opinion become any more of an axiom than it already is.

    — Donald

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