Campaign '08

Reviewing the great space debate uprising of 2008

This week’s issue of Space News has an article (an updated version of which is online) reviewing the efforts of space advocates to get questions about space into the Republican and Democratic debates held tonight and tomorrow night, respectively, by CNN, Politico, and the Los Angeles Times. These some background about the person who get this effort started, John Benac, and how it snowballed from there. A quick check this morning indicates that while the lists of questions are available, the front page of the debate section now redirects to the home page, suggesting that voting may have now closed on debate questions.

I’m quoted towards the end of the article, crediting Mr. Benac for his advocacy but also sounding a little skeptical about how worthwhile this really is. (That’s because, well, I am a little skeptical, as you can probably tell from some previous posts on this.) As I noted in the previous post, the window on getting the candidates to speak out on space during the primary campaigns may be closing now that Florida has come and gone, and these debates may be among the last opportunities to get the candidates to sound off on space in a public forum until the general election campaign gets into gear (if then). Have space advocates used their resources wisely, and asked the right questions?

31 comments to Reviewing the great space debate uprising of 2008

  • Charles in Houston

    The article says that the young Mr Benac would like to get a job at the Johnson Space Center, working on Constellation or other programs. I hope he waits until after the Presidential election (plus several months for things to settle down) before moving.


  • Ray

    One way to get space advocates’ interests to be supported in a sustainable way is to align them with mainstream political interests. For example, some of the top questions on the debate site concerned the war on terror, the military, and hurricaines. It seems fairly straightforward to me to come up with common interests between space advocates and mainstream interests like these. For example, people concerned with the war on terror might support space infrastructure to allow tracking packages, high-resolution imagery, communication, and so on. Similar shared interests could easily be found between space and other mainstream groups – i.e. space platforms that can help those groups meet their objectives, cheaper access to space to let them get more of those platforms working, etc. It seems to me that the space advocacy community does relatively little “common ground” efforts like this, and spends too much time on efforts that have little appeal to mainstream interest groups.

    I’ll also note a link I saw on Cosmic Log to an effort to have a Presidential debate on “Science and Technology”: Of course space exploration is one of the subjects they’d consider fair game in the debate, if they get it to happen. It might make sense for space interests to join the larger technology and science interests on this.

  • Jeff: Have space advocates used their resources wisely,

    I would say, here, not having yet read the Space News article, the answer is a clear yes. To achieve anything, you have to take some risks. This cost the space community almost nothing, the candidates have dedicated an unheard of amount of attention to spaceflight, and it’s possible (if impossible to prove) that this effort and similar efforts to attract the notice of the candidates may have contributed. It seems to me that now is the time to make as much noise as possible, in every venue possible. Again, it costs almost nothing and my have value, and it’s unlikely to hurt.

    — Donald

  • Nemo2

    This one deserves a direct quote.

    SPACE NEWS: Benac told Space News he has been passionate about space since visiting NASA’s Johnson Space Center as a Boy Scout and eventually hopes to land a job in Houston working on the international space station program or Constellation, the U.S. space agency’s effort to return to the Moon.

    Benac’s motivation in persuading everybody to ask for “more money for NASA” now makes perfect sense. He has a personal agenda.

    Obviously, the the reaction of many would have been different if he had fully disclosed his personal agenda. It might have read: “I am a young engineer at Boeing. Please help me get a job in Houston on the ISS or on the Constellation program by voting for a question on this presidential candidate website that directly or indirectly begs the U.S. taxpayer to give more money to NASA”.

    – Nemo2

  • Nemo 2,
    Is it really any surprise that someone who believes in a robust space program just might want to pursue a career in the space program? Your assessment is akin to suggesting that someone going to medical school who supports increased funding for cancer research is doing so solely for the sake of their own future job security. Can your outlook on human nature truly be that embarrassingly shallow?

  • Nemo2

    Mr. Mahoney,

    Did I say Benac is asking people to beg for a taxpayer increase to NASA’s funding SOLELY because he wants a job at ISS or Constellation?

    However, I did point out that he did not DISCLOSE that he wanted a job on the ISS or Constellation while he was asking everybody to do this.

    Mr. Benac may be a good guy, and he may not have ill intent, but his agenda is now clear. That was not clear before. It is a truism of human nature that “Where you sit depends on where you stand.”

    NOTE: Full disclosure is generally the best rule. Finding something out after the fact is always a bad idea.

    – Nemo2

    PS — I find it funny how you indirectly equate working at the $100 Billion ISS with “curing cancer”. I wonder what the impact on cancer would have been if we had invested that $100 Billion directly into increased cancer research.

  • I agree with Mr. Mahoney. Most of us here probably either work in the space industry, work for the space community (in my case, as a writer), or have some other personal investment in spaceflight (in my case, owning stock in relevent companies), and thus all of us have an inherent conflict of interest or “personal agenda” on this issue. As many here know, rightly or wrongly, I support the Space Station project as a market for COTS. Does the fact that I also have made money writing about the Space Station invalidate my opinion or my advocy for the project? Mr. Benac should have disclosed any conflict of interest, but knowing of it would have made no difference to my opinion of his activities, which I consider valuable.

    — Donald

  • Keith Cowing

    Of course Nemo2 won’t disclose his agenda – or his name – but he dumps on John for mentioning both.

  • Nemo 2,

    You have answered my question. Your outlook regarding human nature apparently IS embarrassingly shallow.

    BTW, the annual allotment of the federal budget dedicated to the National Cancer Institute is not very far off from NASA’s annual allocation for the ISS. The federal government has spent on the order of this amount every year since 1971 on cancer research [in 2007 dollars, beginning with ~$3B/year but increasing to $5B/yr today]. This yields a rough total ranging from $90B to $150B spent trying to cure cancer during the past three and a half decades. Some cancers now have highly successful protocols (including mine); some don’t yet. Shall we declare all that research that hasn’t born perfect success a complete waste? Of course not; such is the nature of medical research.

    And do note, please, that some of those protocols that bring about cures have been advanced indirectly through space program research and operations, including a number of the advances in medical imaging technology that enable early detection and follow-up screening (itself coupled to the microelectronics revolution derived in part from all that money we threw away going to the Moon…just because those guys back then wanted to “silver-plate” their spacecraft with on-board computers. How terribly wasteful THAT particular decision was…and, yes, Rand, the Air Force contributed too with Minuteman…)

    The very fact that we’re succeeding with space station operations at all serves as a catalyst for advancing technology across a broad front. This is because accomplishing anything in human spaceflight involves challenges spanning the entire spectrum of engineering, medicine, human factors, and even international relations. Such is the nature of international hi-tech engineering tasks executed in unforgiving environments.

    That the ISS provides us with an opportunity to conduct completely unique research in an environment unavailable here on Earth (research that might—such is the nature of research—even contribute to finding another protocol that cures another cancer or two…among other results) is, I think, a worthy investment. (Based on my own experience (full disclosure there), I suspect that any patients who benefit from such future research would think so.)

    But trying to compare fed dollars spent on cancer research to fed dollars spent on any given space project is dabbling in false economies. Both involve waste, and both make real contributions back to our society. Such is the nature of federal research. If you find that funny, laugh away.

    But back to the main point: Just because someone intends to pursue a career in a field that he or she believes is worthwhile doesn’t indicate anything negative about their character, which your original wording implied (whether or not it was intended). It actually conveys something positive: they are dedicating their lives to furthering what they believe in. A medical student will likely possess strong beliefs about funding for medical research; an aerospace engineer just may have strong beliefs about funding for space exploration.

    The notion that one should disclose something so patently obvious, AND that if one did so it would dissuade others from acting on their own beliefs—once presented with the opportunity TO act—is patently ridiculous.

  • Soon-to-be-Ex-Dem from FL

    It’s too late for Florida, but maybe not for other states. Barack Obama has indicated several times that he intends, if elected, to delay the next NASA missions. He wants to use those funds to improve public education. Now, I’m as much in favor of improving public ed as the next person, but why must just one program suffer the cut? And why should it be a forward-facing program? Why not cut a bit of the billions currently subsidizing Big Ag production of corn so we can generate all the corn syrup currently ‘enriching’ our obese kids? Oh, I forgot. The lion’s share of the corn subsidies goes directly to farms in Iowa. Gee,what a coincidence.

    Irony: the Kennedys are endorsing the one candidate who has pledged to delay (and thus kill) one of the best programs that President Kennedy created. Yes, the delay will kill the space program. Scientists won’t flip burgers for the next 8 years, waiting for a President to be elected who will revitalize the program. They’ll go where the jobs are.

    I guess this is what ‘change’ and ‘turn the page’ mean — get rid of those pesky old programs from the ’60’s like the Space Program, a program that gives kids something to dream about.

    Push any reporter you know to ask Obama for his stand on the space program. Florida’s Dem votes were meaningless because the Dictator Howard Dean ruled that Dem party bylaws were more important than Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution (gives State legislatures the right to decide how ‘electors’ of a President will be picked in their state). So no Dem campaigned here, and Obama wouldn’t even answer questions from Florida reporters who went to other states to ask (our money was good enough to pay for ads in Iowa, though.) But it’s not too late for the rest of the US. Write letters to the editor, write to TV stations, post the questions to blogs. Voters need to know.

  • Space Cowboy

    Voting Republican, eh? I do hope you enjoy the endless dysfunctional war and debt that you’ve got along with your endless dysfunctional space program.

    The Constitution or the Constellation. It’s your choice.

  • ProudtobeRight

    Irony: the Kennedys are endorsing the one candidate who has pledged to delay (and thus kill) one of the best programs that President Kennedy created.

    Kennedy was leaning to drastically change the space program at the time of his election. He had serious doubts about the whole endeavor, and was thinking that having a joint program with the Soviets was the only course that made sense. It was arch-liberal, Lyndon Baynes Johnson, who NASA should credit for its existence. Another reason I harbor a deep seated resentment of the human space program. It is a boondogle, nurtured and championed by the worse flaming opportunistic liberal in U.S. history.

    I guess this is what ‘change’ and ‘turn the page’ mean — get rid of those pesky old programs from the ’60’s like the Space Program, a program that gives kids something to dream about.

    NASA keeps harping about how its existence is the only way to avoid a generation of unmotivated, brain dead kids. This is unadulterated bull-hockey. True, a good portion of kids ≤4th grade think the space program is cool. However, once pre-adolescence sets in, the interest continues only with a few. One could counter that NASA is a questionable way of keeping the relatively small portion of geeks in the population entertained. Besides most geeks are beginning to feel that the best road to human involvement in space is for NASA to get out of the way and concentrate on science and technology.

    Government-funded social engineering is a mistake, but government-funded entertainment is immoral.

  • ProudtobeRight

    Kennedy was leaning to drastically change the space program at the time of his election.

    My apologies. I meant to say “assasination,” not “election.” Proofreading is not one of my strongest suits.

  • Nemo2

    MAHONEY: The very fact that we’re succeeding with space station operations at all serves as a catalyst for advancing technology across a broad front. This is because accomplishing anything in human spaceflight involves challenges spanning the entire spectrum of engineering, medicine, human factors, and even international relations. Such is the nature of international hi-tech engineering tasks executed in unforgiving environments.

    If you had told Congress that the primary result of investing $100 Billion in the space station was to “advance space station operations” they would have cancelled it in a heartbeat.

    Congress was sold a bill of goods about all the RESEARCH that was going to take place on the station, that it was going to do things like “help cure cancer”. A complete sham.

    And you guys think it is a good idea to “Beg for Billions” more in taxpayer dollars towards the same culture and people who produced this result.

    “Begging for Billions” for the same old big government approach is bankrupt.

    Most of the American people know this, as well as the majority of Member’s of Congress know this. Which is why Mikulski and Hutchison and a handful of Members of Congress are having such a hard time getting even $1 Billion added to the NASA budget.

    – Nemo2

  • Alan Ladwig

    I was not able to watch the Republican debate last night. Did any of the space questions make it into the program?

  • ProudtobeRight

    I was not able to watch the Republican debate last night. Did any of the space questions make it into the program?

    Alan, I don’t think so. Of course it was difficult to hear anything over the mean-spirited bickering between Romney and McCain.

  • Jeff Foust

    Alan (and others):

    The debate transcript is here. There was no discussion I found there on space policy issues. Better luck with the Democratic debate tonight!

  • Al Fansome

    There is a lot of heat here, and focus on personalities. Let me try to redirect to something the Aldridge Commission report stated (page 15):

    Three Imperatives for Success

    Three imperatives must continuously animate the nation’s space exploration journey. It must be: (1) sustainable over several decades; (2) affordable with available resources; and (3) credible in the stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

    The Aldridge Commission report talks at great length about sustainability, and what needs to happen to sustain the initiative.

    By this, it is clear (to me) that the Aldridge Commission concluded that the decades old strategy of just asking for more money was not going to work. I agree with the report — and think it has critical recommendations — however I respect Mr. Benac’s valient attempt to garner more public dollars anyway. I think he had an innovative approach, and although I share Mr. Foust’s skepticism, he should not be criticized for trying something new. (Although he probably should have disclosed his personal agenda on his website, since he was asking so many others to do something in response to his request.)

    The Aldridge Commission report discusses in detail some of the fundamental challenges to political sustainability, and makes many key recommendations. For example, it states that making a case for “exploration” and “discovery” is not enough, and then states that there must be more pragmatic reasons to sustain the program — specifically economic growth and national security. The report also states that “the exploration plan must include … a strong justification easily articulated and understood”.

    The current “ESAS plan” falls short on all these fronts — on “economic growth”, on “national security” and on “a strong justification easily articulated and understood”.

    In that context, it is quite difficult to persuade our elected leaders to increase NASA’s budget.

    Some argue that we need to “add money to the budget” before restructuring.

    I agree with what several others here have stated — and argue the exact opposite. Restructuring the “plan” along the lines recommended by the Aldridge Commission report is critical to political “sustainability” and more money for NASA.

    If NASA could make a compelling argument that its plan would produce significant “economic growth” and “national security”, then I have no doubt that there would be much greater political support.

    It is a sad FACT that the ESAS study did NOT even evaluate “economic growth” and “national security” benefits of the various options. This was a lost opportunity.

    The Aldridge Commission report was quite prescient on this issue.

    By ignoring the Aldridge Commission report’s explicit recommendations to develop a plan focused on “economic growth” and “national security” benefits, Griffin demonstrated his ignorance of modern political reality for NASA.

    – Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rocket scientists do not understand politics.”

  • Anon


    Well said. Let me add that that if NASA met just one Aldridge Commission recommendation, it would change everything.

    NASA’s relationship to the private sector, its organizational structure, business culture, and management processes – all largely inherited from the Apollo era – must be decisively transformed to implement the new, multi-decadal space exploration vision.

    This one recommendation would produce compelling “economic growth” and “national security” benefits.

    However, instead of following this approach, Griffin has reiterated his commitment to the “organizational structure”, “business culture” and “management processes” that he “inherited from the Apollo era”.

    I would add that “Cheap and Reliable Access to Space” (CRATS) is absolutely critical, and it is the way we produce the “economic growth” and “national security” benefits that the Aldridge Commission is talking about.

    If we had CATS — it would end all the food fighting between the different factions. The planetary science community would benefit, the Earth science community would benefit, the aeronautics community would benefit (and probably do a lot of the work), and the “humans in space community” would benefit.

    I think everybody agrees that CRATS would also produce “economic growth” and “national security” benefits.

    – Anon

  • Nemo2


    OK, I agree with the two of you.

    But the Aldridge Commission report has been tabled because the agenda has been hijacked by people from Alabama, Florida and Texas — whose top priority is to protect their jobs. Producing results for the American taxpayer, and opening space to the American people, is a secondary or tertiary priority to them. At best.

    Which is why learning that Mr. Benac’s goal of “getting a job working for the ISS or Constellation program” set me off.

    Mr. Benac may have “good intent”, but he (and others) are unthinking cogs in a system that has failed (again and again) to fullfill the potential of space, and is clearly failing again.

    The Aldridge Commission states that “credibility” is key. Hello???? The current NASA strategy has no credibility.

    Who here disagrees?

    “Begging for Billions” for an architecture that has no credibility is almost guaranteed to fail.

    – Nemo2

  • canttellya

    I really hope Mr. Benac gets the job he’s hoping for with NASA. It will be just what he needs to quench his enthusiasm about Constellation.

  • Al Fansome


    Let me suggest that you can disagree without being disagreeable.

    BTW, I think this is all moot. I checked the debate question website a couple days ago, and the space questions had fallen FAR down the list. Voters were clearly voting other issues, in large numbers late in the process, which may be why there was not a space question on the Republican side.

    We will see if there is one on the democratic side tonight.

    – Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rockets scientists don’t understand politics”

  • Anon4

    Yes, its a good lesson for him and the rest of the space advocates. Lots of work and no result. No space questions as people are far more worried about more important things then funding NASA so this guy has a job.

    More proof that NASA is the past, not the future of space.

  • And then “Mr. Benac” weighs in.

    Sorry for the delay, I have been on a business trip since Tuesday.

    So… I have an “agenda…” a “conflict of interest?”

    This isn’t a government contract that I’m going for guys, Its getting more support for the space industry at large. Who are you, the GAO? I want to work on the space station program because it is a stable job until at least 2016 and it will give me experience for the next space endeavors, whether they be public or private, Boeing or Lockheed, American or international.

    I also want to get a job on the station program because Boeing has awesome benefits and it is close to my family in Texas.

    Does that make anyone less supportive of space exploration? Does that make anyone less inclined to talk to their senator and tell them whatever they want to about space? Why should anyone care at all about my personal career aspirations?

    The space station budget is not in question. No one is talking about cutting station funding, so I find it hard to believe that you might think that I am orchestrating people to act on their support for space so that I have a better chance at the getting a job on the space station project.

    Every one of you can go to right now and tell each candidate in 3 ways exactly how you feel about the station, NASA funding, COTS, the Aldridge Commission, or whatever else you care about. Every one of you could have submitted any question that you wanted to the politico debates. Why on earth is Nemo and Anon4 and canttellya and Charles in Houston talking about my motivations and career path and conspiracy to “get people active about space.” This has nothing to do with me, as far as you all are concerned.

    I do hope I get the job. I should be hearing back soon on a specific job req that I applied for a few months ago. I guarantee that this debate will have no impact on whether or not I get it, it will have no impact on my pay if I get it, and it wont change station funding or the contract that Boeing has with NASA to build and operation the station.

    Anon4, read the Science article entitled Getting Up to Speed on Space in Vol 319. “Lots of work and no result” is what you say? Nemo, you say I am an “unthinking cog?” I say forget you. I’m not going to let you slow me down doing what I’m passionate about and what makes me happy.

    and by the way, we–the people I have “duped” into taking action on their beliefs–are defiantly making a difference. I’m not going to waste my time explaining how to cynics who would be fatalistic about it anyway.

    –Indignantly Yours,

    Mr. John W Benac
    aspiring contributor to push humanity into space

  • p.s. I didn’t “disclose” my agenda because who the heck cares about what job I want to have!

  • The People

    More proof that NASA is the past, not the future of space.

    Absolutely right. It didn’t even make a difference in Brevard county.

  • Al Fansome

    No space questions asked in the Democratic debate either.

    In listening to the questions that were asked, the reporters clearly were choosing questions that the reporter thought topical, and of high priority.

    I don’t know if anybody tracked actual questions versus rankings, or wants to, but I am guessing that voting had little to do with what was asked. (Voting did bring a lot more people to the Politico website. Nice scheme for upping traffic.)

    – Al

  • That’s right Al, now I’m secretly scheming to promote politico.

    give me a break.

  • Al Fansome

    BENAC: That’s right Al, now I’m secretly scheming to promote politico.


    What I wrote had nothing to do with you.

    – Al

  • John: I do hope I get the job.

    I hope so too. Good luck!

    — Donald

  • I don’t think they have used their resources wisely to get the PR on this topic in fron to of the public’s eye. I hope to hear something on this topic from the candidates before the end of this presidential race.

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