Campaign '08

Space policy and the campaigns: some recent reviews

“Although the MSM [mainstream media] has largely ignored Barack Obama’s plans for NASA, the issue is likely to bubble up during the general election campaign, if he’s the Democratic nominee,” claims Lee Cary in an essay in American Thinker, a right-leaning online publication. Cary never really explains why he believes this will happen: after all, while space got more attention that some might have expected during the primary season, it never became a major topic (outside of, say, Brevard County in Florida). In a general election between Obama and John McCain, it’s hard to see space getting much attention, particularly given the increasing concern about the economy (in particular food and fuel prices), the ever-present debate about Iraq, and so on.

Cary largely rehashes what’s been previously said about Obama, including his pledge to delay Constellation for five years to help pay for his education programs. Cary then cites the campaign’s quasi-official space policy where Obama pledges to “support the development of this vital new platform [the Orion CEV] to ensure that the United States’ reliance on foreign space capabilities is limited to the minimum possible time period.” “Now is that in human or dog years?” is Cary’s rejoinder, one of a number of parenthetical, italicized comments littered throughout the document in an apparent effort to be witty. Cary doesn’t note, though, that this “reliance on foreign space capabilities” (aka “the gap”) is going to be an issue for whomever is elected president.

A more balanced analysis comes from Rand Simberg in a PopularMechanics.com article. He examines what the three campaigns (Obama, McCain, and Hillary Clinton) have said to date on space, and how the facts back up (or don’t) their rhetoric. No clear winner emerges. “For voters already behind NASA’s targeted human spaceflight, don’t get your hopes up—none of the three major candidates are likely to fund the current plan, because they’ll all face the budgetary pressures implied by an aging population and a burgeoning federal deficit,” he writes. “So perhaps the real question to ask McCain, Clinton and Obama is not what they’re going to do for NASA, but whether they’re going to come up with a more innovative federal space policy overall.”

34 comments to Space policy and the campaigns: some recent reviews

  • PolicyGeek

    The assumption is that Space Policy will be on the top of their “to do” list early in the administration .

    Consider:

    Eisenhower did not have a space policy until Sputnik

    Kennedy did not have a space policy until Yuri Gagarin

    Johnson continued Kennedy’s policy.

    Nixon developed his space policy as a result of Apollo winding down. Basically the minimum needed to keep technical capabilities intact

    Ford and Carter made no major changes in space policy

    Regean didn’t propose Space Station Freedom until the re-election year of 1984

    Bush 41 did push a new policy as part of the anniversary of Apollo. It fell flat.

    Clinton based it on Foreign Policy (ISS).

    Bush 43 only developed one after Columbia

    So unless the next president is a space fan like Bush 41, or opponent, they have no reason to really tinker with space policy. Obama may well kill it to find money for education, but there is no major political reason for Clinton or McCain to focus on it.

    Yes, budget tightening may force NASA to draw out Constellation, but the decision on Shuttle retirement, Launch gap and job losses were the result the decision made under Bush 43, no need to mess with them again as there is someone to blame . And too bad on the budget problem but everyone, even NASA must share the pain.

    So the likely space policy of the next President will be:

    McCain, support for Constellation, just too bad about the budget issue.

    Clinton, support for Constellation, just too bad about the budget issue.

    Obama, I need money for Education, we don’t need space now. Raid on NASA.

    The first two allow NASA the option to shift funds around, deleting non-critical programs to keep Ares I/CEV moving forward.

    Obama will just take the money away.

    So the question is which would be best for the space community?

    I know that it is the interest of New Space to support Obama as he the best bet to kill human spaceflight at NASA, long a New Space goal. But what about the other groups of space advocates?

  • While I have chosen to support Mrs. Clinton, I think if Mr. Obama were to become President, this outcome Obama, I need money for Education, we don’t need space now. Raid on NASA is very unlikely. I do think he is the least likely of the three to actively support spaceflight (especially human spaceflight), I think a far more likely outcome is a Nixon, Ford, and Carter-like policy of keeping alive minimum capabilities while letting everything else slide. Thus the ISS and Ares / Orion would probably continue, and possibly even COTS to support the ISS, but the lunar initiative would be cancelled or (worse) indefinitely delayed without any decision. In my opinion, Congress would never tolerate a full withdrawal from human spaceflight, and Mr. Oboma, unless he were highly ideologically motivated to kill the space program, would know that and would not invest political capital on a losing proposition.

    – Donald

  • Vladislaw

    Rand, in the comments section of your PM article a guy said this ” This is why Bigelow went bust. Investors want a return and quickly on investment… ”

    Have you heard of bigelow going bust?

  • mike shupp

    Eisenhower had a space program before sputnik — the USA had plans to launch a small satellite (MOUSE) in 1957-1958 as part of the International Geophysical Year. Ike also had some notion of using satellites to spy upon / observe the Soviet Union. Finally, he was trying to build up a force of nuclear-tipped missiles while restraining competition between the Army (IRBMs) and the Air Force (ICBMs).

    Kennedy had a space policy from the start — to do more than Eisenhower. Being behind in the Space Race and behind in the Missile Race was one of the sticks Democrats (LBJ in particular) had been pummelling the Republicans with since sputnik.

    Johnson had been pushing for a bigger space program since 1957. A second string on his bow was the use of space contracts to help modernize the South, which had been lagging behind the North industriallly and economically for well over a century. As President, he continued that policy until the Apollo 1 fire, VietNam, and racial riots in US cities forced funding restrictions.

    Nixon seems to have been of mixed minds about manned space. Arguably he pushed for the largest program that was possible given the politics of the time, which was pretty damned hostile to Apollo-style programs. It’s worth remembering that the Space Shuttle program survived an all out battle in the Senate by a single vote in 1974.

    Jerry Ford didn’t have a space program. Conceded. He had economic problems to deal with. And the swine flu debacle. Neither encouraged being adventuresome.

    Jimmy Carter was for a more restrained NASA from the beginning. His Vice President, Walter Mondale, was famous for his opposition to the shuttle, and to manned programs in general.

    Ronald Reagan had SEVERAL space programs in mind during his administration. For one thing, the space shuttle started operating early in his term. But to his mind, the most important was putting up a shield of some sort to protect the American people from nuclear attack — his critics labeled this Star Wars.

    George HW Bush was well known for lacking “the Vision Thing”, so what made him a late period space advocate is hard to determine. It smelled a little of ersatz at the time and even now, which has always struck me as the major cause for its failure in Congress (or within NASA for that matter).

    Bill Clinton also had a “new” space policy when he arrived in office. More precisely he was handed one almost immediately — “Faster, Better, Cheaper” — by Dan Goldin, who had become NASA head in the last few months of the Bush administration. Goldin stayed at NASA until well into the second Bush presidency, suggesting that the dual policy of FBC and keeping manned space flight on a tight leash was something that closely matched Clinton’s own inclinations.

    Presidents have policies and options. Both matter.

  • Simberg’s “analysis” is far from balanced and extremely weak. It conjoins the old line about aging population with the ever present budget battle in order to dismiss the most obvious scenario. Given the strong bipartisan support for NASA in Congress, that scenario is business as usual.

    The proposed alternate vision is a pathetic future based on private access to LEO. What a pitiful end to exploration. What a sell out.

  • Mike Shupp: Presidents have policies and options. Both matter.

    Thanks for the interesting analysis. I agree with this, but I think it is less so now that it was before the second Clinton Administration. Before the start of construction of the ISS and the loss of Columbia, I think that a complete retreat from human spaceflight was politically possible. Now, with at least the appearance of China, and soon India and others, in the game, and a renewed and apparently more threatening Russia; with the ISS an existing facility needing support; and with the very real threat of the loss of large numbers of highly paid middle-class jobs, a complete withdrawal from human spaceflight by the government is politically improbable.

    – Donald

  • anonymous.space

    “Simberg’s “analysis” is far from balanced”

    Mr. Simberg’s article is much more balanced than Mr. Cary’s, if for no other reason than it examines and compares each Presidential candidate’s position in turn versus criticizing one stand-alone candidate.

    “and extremely weak.”

    I guess it depends on how one is measuring “strong” and “weak”, but Mr. Simberg’s analysis is certainly realistic with respect to the likely budget outcomes for Constellation and NASA.

    “It conjoins the old line about aging population with the ever present budget battle in order to dismiss the most obvious scenario.”

    Since when do unstoppable demographic changes in the population not drive “the most obvious scenario”.

    “Given the strong bipartisan support for NASA in Congress, that scenario is business as usual.”

    Strong support for the VSE, NASA, or ESAS/Constellation?

    And where’s the evidence for this strong bipartisan support in Congress?

    Ares I/Orion can’t meet the 2014 IOC called for in the VSE because, among other things, Congress has not provided funding consistent with the VSE budget. Even after certain members of Congress criticized the five-year “gap” and NASA provided estimates of what it would take to accelerate Ares I/Orion from 2015 to 2013, Congress still has provided no additional funding. In fact, Congress has subjected NASA to annual continuing resolutions, resulting in a flattening of the Constellation budget and further delays. Chairs of appropriations subcommittees can’t even pass $1-2 billion increases (i.e., the perennial “Mikulski miracle”) in the NASA budget to help NASA recover from costs incurred in the aftermath of Columbia and Katrina. And this spring, authorization committees have started asking tough questions based on GAO reports about technical/cost/schedule issues on Ares I/Orion and alternatives to those vehicles.

    So where is there evidence of strong congressional support, bipartisan or otherwise, for NASA overall or ESAS/Constellation?

    I could maybe see a strong statement of support for the VSE based on the vote for NASA’s last authorization bill. But even that was the old, Republican-controlled Congress. We have no such endorsement of the VSE from the Democrat-controlled Congress.

    “The proposed alternate vision is a pathetic future based on private access to LEO. What a pitiful end to exploration. What a sell out.”

    How would “private access to LEO” result in a “pitiful end to exploration”? The former can support the latter.

    FWIW…

  • mike shupp

    Donald Robertson –

    More or less by default, as I see it, rather than by conscious design, NASA seems to have acquired the status of the US Coast Guard. It’s a medium big agency which does some good, of some kind, but the main reason we keep it going — especially the manned space part — is because we MIGHT need a much bigger space program sometime in the future, and it would be easier to beef up an existing program rather than start from scratch. (Much as the CG gets converted to a mini-Navy during World Wars.) So from year to year, NASA doesn’t seem to accomplish anything? Neither do fire insurance premiums.

    The “policy” seems to date back to Carter.

  • Vladislaw

    “Given the strong bipartisan support for NASA in Congress”

    I believe a good litmus test for determining congressional support is the 4% of the budget NASA received during the Apollo program. That is the high watermark that all congresses, presidents and public support are held to.

    NASA receives one sixth of one percent of today’s budget and that will soon be shrinking as the democratic control tightens and tax cuts are repealed and the federal budget increases while retoric like Senator Obama’s talks about NASA getting new priorities and budget cuts to fund education.

    “Simberg’s “analysis” is far from balanced and extremely weak.”

    One thing I do know, it is easier to tear something down then to build it. Easier to stress a negative while never providing the positive. You proceed to tear down Mister Simberg’s opinions as “weak” then utterly fail to provide your opinions of strenght that are somehow going to shatter his.

    He presented a balanced opinion where all you did is go negative and attack, where’s the beef.

  • Have you heard of bigelow going bust?

    News to me.

  • Rand: Nice and generally fair article. I think you might have quoted Mrs. Clinton’s inspirational comments, as well as Mr. Obama’s — especially since her’s were first — but that is my only comment.

    – Donald

  • Thank you, Donald, but I should note that the piece was heavily edited (Pop Mechanics seems to have a heavier hand than any other publication I’ve written for), so I’m not ultimately responsible for what was included or excluded.

  • Ray

    PolicyGeek: “The first two allow NASA the option to shift funds around, deleting non-critical programs to keep Ares I/CEV moving forward.”

    You must have a different idea than I do of what’s critical at NASA and what isn’t.

  • Rand: I’m not ultimately responsible for what was included or excluded

    Believe me, I know the feeling!

    In most cases, the articles I post on my Web site are as I originally wrote them, which is often very different from what was published. As a general rule in my experince, the more popular the journal the heavier the hand. I quit writing for one publication when they wrote their own quote to replace what a scientist had actually said, leaving it in quotation marks, and refused to go back to the original in galleys! One recent publication, over my vocal opposition, refused to credit my sources.

    One partial solution is to modify the contract to see the galleys before publication, but even then, they often ignore your changes even if they are matters of fact.

    And we wonder why science reporting has such a poor reputation. . . .

    – Donald

  • MarkWhittington

    One of the interesting assumptions being made of the McCain proposal is that it suggests an across the board freeze of non defense, no homeland security discretionary spending. But a careful reading of McCain’s speech does not, in fact, mandate that at all. What seems to be proposed is a freeze of discretionary spending as a whole, leaving room for some accounts to increase, so long as others decrease to balance things out. So the proposal does not necessarily mean a freeze of NASA’s budget.

  • anonymous.space

    “But a careful reading of McCain’s speech does not, in fact, mandate that at all.”

    A careful reading would take notice of the fact that McCain plans to freeze discretionary accounts while “he reviews EVERY [emphasis added] federal program, department, and agency” from “‘TOP TO BOTTOM’ [emphasis added]“. See (add http://www.):

    nytimes.com/2008/04/16/us/politics/15cnd-mccain.html?ref=business

    There’s no indication that any non-defense discretionary program will be exempt from a McCain discretionary freeze review in FY10. In fact, McCain and his campaign have indicated the opposite, going out of their way to explain how all-encompassing this discretionary freeze review would be.

    Note that I’m not making a judgement as to whether such a review, and subjecting NASA to such a review, is good or bad — just that it is.

    FWIW…

  • Al Fansome

    WHITTINGTON: One of the interesting assumptions being made of the McCain proposal is that it suggests an across the board freeze of non defense, no homeland security discretionary spending. But a careful reading of McCain’s speech does not, in fact, mandate that at all. What seems to be proposed is a freeze of discretionary spending as a whole, leaving room for some accounts to increase, so long as others decrease to balance things out. So the proposal does not necessarily mean a freeze of NASA’s budget.

    Dear Mr. Whittingon,

    If McCain was going to increase NASA’s budget (the opposite of “freeze”), don’t you think he would have said as much during the very competitive Florida primary campaign with Romney and Guliani?

    What did he say while he was in that hotly competitive race in Florida?

    Please provide a source.

    HINT: You are correct that McCain has not said he will “freeze” NASA’s budget. However, it also true that McCain has not said he will freeze any specific agency’s budget. In other words, NASA is in the exact same position as all the other discretionary non-DoD agencies.

    BOTTOM LINE: You are engaging in pure wishful thinking. Some might call it praying.

    Not to worry, you are not the only one. The “more money” advocates for every other discretionary federal agency are doing the same right now.

    FWIW,

    - Al

  • There’s no indication that any non-defense discretionary program will be exempt from a McCain discretionary freeze review in FY10. In fact, McCain and his campaign have indicated the opposite, going out of their way to explain how all-encompassing this discretionary freeze review would be.

    Actually, it doesn’t preclude reducing some agency’s budgets after such a review. In fact, he has indicated that he’s going to look for places to cut.

  • Vladislaw

    “Obama will just take the money away”

    Dictators and other monarchs take money away. Obama would be voted in as the president of the executive branch. Unless he expressly wrote an executive order seizing NASA funding, he has to follow the law. When congress passes a funding bill that actually is a law and the president has to execute it. So regardless of what Obama WANTS to do, or PLEDGES to do, if congress votes in the pork for Ares I & V the president will spend it unless he vetos the entire bill that NASA spending is tied to.

    Rand, two points;

    “none of the three major candidates are likely to fund the current plan”

    “This suggests that NASA would remain the primary carrier of passengers to the ISS for its astronauts, depriving the private space transportation sector of a potential market.”

    You mentioned that PM did some “creative” editing. In the first quote you mention plan. What plan are you talking about, VSE, ESAS, Constellation, mars, et cetera, could you elaborate on what you believe would actually be cut out by the various candidates when push comes to shove with congress.
    I kinda get the idea that the older the candidate the more likely to fund traditional space companies who contribute more to campaigns over the years and they have longer work histories together.

    I think of McCain and Clinton tied with traditional Big Aerospace and Obama maybe feeling he has the ability to strike out and form new ones.

    In the second quote you mention if they stick with the stick it would be “depriving” the STS of a of a potential market.

    Do you know what the current law/status is as far as a U.S.A. commerical vehicle bringing civil passengers to ISS, is it banned under treaty or under NASA rules? The reason I ask is because of Pickens talking about all this lab space the US gets under the barter arrangement. Could a crew of lab scientists, that are not NASA astronauts, go up for a three – eight day lab crunch or something in the future? Would that take new legislation or guidelines?

  • PolicyGeek

    Vladislaw

    The President Proposes a bidget for the different agencies. Then Congress decides on how to modify it. If Obama Proposes a budget for NASA that cuts human spaceflight to faction of what is currently spent on human spaceflight its taking the money away. Congress may add it back, but look how difficult it has been able to add money it to counter the cost of Katrina and Return to Flight at NASA? How much more difficult would it be to restore the funds for Constellation at NASA?

  • PolicyGeek

    MOUSE was not a policy, it was a program. And Kennedy used the mythical missile gap as a campiagn charge, but it wasn’t a policy.

  • What plan are you talking about, VSE, ESAS, Constellation, mars, et cetera, could you elaborate on what you believe would actually be cut out by the various candidates when push comes to shove with congress.

    I’m referring to ESAS. Under either Democrat, I suspect that Ares/Orion will continue (to close “the gap”) but no lunar hardware (EDS/lander) will be approved.

    Do you know what the current law/status is as far as a U.S.A. commerical vehicle bringing civil passengers to ISS, is it banned under treaty or under NASA rules?

    There is no law against this, or explicit NASA rule. However, the technical rules that NASA has for vehicles visiting the station will remain a barrier to entry for most commercial companies.

  • Vladislaw

    Well that is not QUITE how it works, the way it is constitutionally set up is that ALL money bills shall originate in the house of representatives, specifically the house ways and means. Not SOME money bills, not MOST money bills, but ALL money bills have to originate there. So regardless of language all the president is doing is presenting his wish list, it goes to the write up committee who rewrites it in terms that the HOUSE wants to spend the tax payers money. Then the senate adds and subtracts, and sends their version to the house where it is renogociated again, sent back to the two houses for a final vote and THAT bill, or law is then sent to the president’s desk. He can now sign it into law and has to enforce or execute it, with all the add ons and subtractions and no matter HOW DIFFERENT then what he proposed or the president can veto it. Regardless, Obama can only suggest, and then sign or veto WHATEVER congress sends back. If Obama does not have a clear majority for his policies and budget proposals in congress, they will just fund at what levels they want, add their 6000 earmarks and Obama will sign.

  • Vladislaw

    “If Obama Proposes a budget for NASA that cuts human spaceflight to faction of what is currently spent on human spaceflight its taking the money away.”

    That would only be true if after what DOES get enacted does actually result in less human spaceflight. For example:

    Obama takes 2 billion a year from current manned flight and gives it away to develop more commerical manned flight carriers and we are able to launch 7 astronauts for 140 million a shot versus the 800 million for each shuttle launch. You could achieve a higher flight rate with more total astronauts reaching space and at the same time lowering your overall manned flight budget.

    I am not saying this is what he is going to do, he has not even hinted at his true plans other then he wants more commerical activities, more robots, and more science.

    Just because someone proproses a cut in how much money NASA gets to try and achieve and maintain manned flight does not mean if that same money goes somewhere else it can still be achieved at a lower cost.

  • Ray

    Rand: “I’m referring to ESAS. Under either Democrat, I suspect that Ares/Orion will continue (to close “the gap”) but no lunar hardware (EDS/lander) will be approved.”

    This would be a very unfortunate outcome indeed. To go through the decade of pain to build Ares/Orion, and to have no lunar mission and Ares V follow-on, would completely waste the tens of $billions, and worse, would result in an expensive system that politics would dictate has to be used for something – presumably squashing any U.S. commercial ISS transportation, especially crew transportation.

    As Rand said in the article: “Clinton does want to replace the shuttle, but the concern among some in the space community is that she will do this by continuing Ares 1 and Orion—just not for the moon. This suggests that NASA would remain the primary carrier of passengers to the ISS for its astronauts, depriving the private space transportation sector of a potential market”.

    Even NASA Administrator Griffin says that Ares/Orion without the lunar mission makes no sense. It seems like politics and budget are likely to give us just that, though. It would be smart for Griffin, who I assume, as he’s implied, does not want this outcome, to do things to discourage it, like:

    - make the lunar mission more attractive, even if funds have to come from Ares/Orion (which are, after all, unlikely to be cancelled with the political/job interests involved), by doing more of what we can do now, like

    * kicking off COTS ISS crew transportation so it’s there before Ares/Orion

    * sending more robots to the Moon for diverse science and ISRU or other human-related work (he’s made a start on the robots at least)

    * starting serious work on the lunar transportation (eg: Ares V, LSAM)

    * getting international support for the lunar mission

    * and getting commercial interests, well, interested (eg: putting fuel depots in the transportation architecture)

    - and/or give Ares/Orion some other, intermediate job besides ISS transportation and the lunar mission … like servicing science satellites, for example

    - or cancel Ares/Orion altogether and try something less ambitious per launch

  • To go through the decade of pain to build Ares/Orion, and to have no lunar mission and Ares V follow-on, would completely waste the tens of $billions, and worse, would result in an expensive system that politics would dictate has to be used for something – presumably squashing any U.S. commercial ISS transportation, especially crew transportation.

    Yes, which would make it in complete keeping with federal space policy for the past half century in its lunacy.

  • Unfortunately, I agree that we are likely to be left with Orion and nothing else, no matter who is President. We may have missed a unique political opportunity that may not be repeated until another set of political stars line up. There is plenty of fault to go around, but Dr. Griffin probably deserves the most for selecting ESAS, which was too expensive and too slow to achieve anything before the political interest and money ran out.

    – Donald

  • Vladislaw

    “and to have no lunar mission and Ares V follow-on”

    I believe if the moon mars and beyond is trimmed from NASA in the next adminstration, there will be no Ares V to worry about, it would automatically get cut with the moon, there wouldnt be enough payload justification to build it. A telescope maybe, and new space station, but I highly doubt they would get funded, so without the moon the Ares V is gone too.

  • without the moon the Ares V is gone too

    You say that like it’s a bad thing…

  • Vladislaw

    Rand, when I read that I literally bust out laughing. I am so at odds and frustrated with the USA’s space policy and NASA. For me, trained in economics and not rocket science, and seeing a US budget of 3 TRILLION dollars plus per year and what the nation does in space it has always been “what are we WAITING FOR!” So when the flag waving comes out and your natural pride in your nation swells and they parade out the big new rocket and visions of Apollo fill your mind like sugar plums and the dreams of getting off world, YES, I would love to see Ares V.

    A man and his BIG ROCKET, lets build it and go what is there even to think about! Then you post that and I laugh because we KNOW what it will mean if NASA was planning on doing it. It will take three times as long to develope, design and build, cost three times as much, and will launch three times less then it is supposed to. When you look at that history you’re right, is it really a bad thing if we didnt even bother with it.

    We (collectively as a nation) would probably be better off not bothering with it and it will just slow down commerical solutions to HLVs.

  • You miss the point. We don’t need HLVs, either government or commercial, until there’s enough activity going on to justify them (i.e., a couple orders magnitude more than current). What we need is low-cost launch, not heavy lift. And heavy lift is not the way to get there at current activity levels.

  • Rand: While we might disagree on how to get there, I agree with your statement above, one-hundred percent. Big rockets are actually counter-productive, I think, because they cannot really be commercialized in the foreseeable future, and, more importantly, they let you avoid learning how to do orbital assembly and live off the land. Both of those skills are essential to a real future in space. Keep it small and as cheap as possible.

    – Donald

    – Donald

  • Big rockets are actually counter-productive, I think, because they cannot really be commercialized in the foreseeable future, and, more importantly, they let you avoid learning how to do orbital assembly and live off the land.

    Actually, it’s the worst of all worlds, because for all their expense, they actually don’t let you avoid that. For instance, Ares V wouldn’t be large enough to do a Mars mission (of course, it turns out that the current design isn’t even large enough to do a lunar mission), so you have to learn how to do it anyway. Any suitably ambitious space program will always come up with a mission larger than a single launch of even the largest vehicle in the stable will perform.

    On the other hand, Mike Griffin’s NASA hasn’t shown much ambition, to date.

  • “Although the MSM [mainstream media] has largely ignored Barack Obama’s plans for NASA, the issue is likely to bubble up during the general election campaign, if he’s the Democratic nominee,” claims Lee Cary in an essay in American Thinker, a right-leaning online publication. Cary never really explains why he believes this will happen:”

    The explanation is based on the premise that, sooner or later, folks will read his campaign documents. Maybe even the McCain campaign.
    Lee Cary

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