In case you missed it, on Saturday CNN aired a brief report on space and the lack of attention it was getting on the campaign trail in this presidential election. While you’re unlikely to learn much new about the topic from the report if you’ve been reading this and other resources on the topic in recent months, the report was disappointing in another way: it focused almost entirely on building up a space race between China and the US. Among the claims made by the CNN piece: “Chinese scientists talk about mining the lunar surface for possible nuclear energy resources that are plentiful there but rare on Earth.” That’s a reference, of course, to helium-3, and such mining might indeed be useful—in that day in the far future when we actually have operational helium-3 fusion reactors.
“But there is genuine and growing fear among some scientists that if space does not become a higher priority, the Chinese program will be on par with America’s by the end of the next president’s second term,” the piece concludes. It’s not clear that CNN talked to any scientists in the article—the only experts quoted are Robert Zubrin and a military analyst—and some scientists might have very different opinions about current space policy depending on, for example, the status of their budgets. There’s no discussion in the piece about concrete, near-term issues like the impending retirement of the shuttle and the gap between it and Constellation, something that the next president will have to immediately grapple with.
It does raise an interesting question, though: should US space policy, and the candidates’ positions on the issue, be judged against the “threat” (real or perceived) of China or other nations, or should it be judged against whatever national goals we have for it, regardless of what other countries are doing?