Tuesday morning the Space Transportation Association (STA) hosted a breakfast featuring what it billed as something of a debate between Lori Garver and Jim Muncy on the various presidential candidates’ stances on space policy. In reality, the event was more of a discussion of the candidates’ views on space than a debate, although there was a Freaky Friday-like twist: Garver, a Democrat, talked about the Republican candidates, while Muncy, a Republican, talked about the Democratic candidates. “This gives you respect for the other side, how challenging it is,” Garver said.
For those who have been following what the candidates have been saying about space here and elsewhere, there was not much in the way of new insights about the candidates views. Garver said that John McCain has a “nuanced” position on space from his time in the Senate, and procurement has been a big issue for him in regards to aerospace. McCain introduced a bill in 1991 to cancel the space station program, she noted, but has since been supportive of the effort. She called McCain’s statement on space policy “a very good statement” and “very positive”, and added that McCain would “in general be supportive” of commercial space initiatives.
Muncy said that Barack Obama’s space policy is “fairly well thought out” overall, although he did identify one conflict between the policy and previous statements by the campaign to delay Constellation for five years to help pay for his education program. The Obama statement explicitly supports the continued development of Orion and Ares 1, but Muncy noted that Constellation funding will be dominated by those two efforts through about 2011 or 2012, when development of the Ares 5 and other Constellation components ramp up. Muncy also lauded Obama’s technology and innovation policy: “It would have been nice to have seen some of those folks who wrote the technology policy, as thought out as it is, writing the space policy.”
Muncy also discussed the Clinton campaign’s follow-up statement in November on space policy (which, to the best of my knowledge, has not been posted online), which tried to make clearer Clinton’s support for an eventual human return to the Moon, also included support for additional investments in aerospace and aeronautics R&D, “including through incentives and cooperative ventures”. He called that the one statement by any candidate other than now-withdrawn Rudy Giuliani that referred to commercial and entrepreneurial space. “For that reason, this Republican probably would, if he was voting in a Democratic primary, endorse Senator Clinton.” That statement was greeted with a chorus of “ooohs!” and claps from the audience.
Garver and Muncy also used the event to step back and address the relative importance of space policy in the overall campaign. Space is not a top-tier issue, Muncy said, but it does have “tentacles” that reach into other topics, from the environment to the military. Moreover, most of the space policy discussion to date has focused on civil space, with little or no mention of military or commercial space issues. Still, he concluded, “short of a 21st century version of Sputnik, it’s hard for me to imagine what would cause more attention to space in February of an election year.”