Campaign '08

The so-so space debate: initial impressions

The featured event Friday afternoon at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) was the “Election 2008 Space Panel” featuring representatives of the three major presidential candidates (Sens. Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama), moderated by CNN’s Miles O’Brien. This was one of the few opportunities for the campaigns to speak out in detail and debate various elements of space policy. For those looking for grand new insights into the candidates’ space policies, though, or even settle some nagging questions, the panel was a disappointment.

Half of the four people on the panel were able to talk about space policy quite well: Lori Garver, representing Clinton, was well-versed in the issues, not surprisingly; O’Brien has also done his homework, based on the questions he asked on topics beyond NASA’s budget and the future of the vision, ranging from commercialization to military space policy to export control. However, Steve Robinson, an Obama advisor who works on primarily education issues, as well as Floyd DesChamps, a Senate staffer called in at the last moment to represent McCain, were not as fluent on the issues. More than one person remarked afterwards that Robinson has a “deer in the headlights” look when asked about export control, and only said he had nothing more to add on the issue. (To be fair, his turn to address the topic came after the other two panelists, who both said that ITAR was a problem that needed to be addressed.)

A couple highlights: During the session, O’Brien asked Robinson about the Obama education policy, which includes the now-infamous statement about delaying Constellation for five years, even though Obama is now talking about continuing to develop Ares 1 and Orion. Robinson never directly addressed the issue, saying that Obama would be willing to listen to the space and science community about this (a theme of consultation with scientists that he mentioned elsewhere in the panel). On the balance of human and robotic exploration, he suggested that younger audiences might find robots more inspirational (another theme) than human missions, or at least find them inspiring to some degree, whereas older audiences might not.

DesChamps mentioned that McCain was concerned about the Shuttle-Constellation gap, and suggested that McCain would take a “closer look” at NASA to see if additional investment was warranted. (This was after he noted McCain’s strong interest in fiscal responsibility.) He did not specifically mention McCain’s proposal for a spending freeze for discretionary non-defense programs, though. After the panel I asked him whether there might be a possibility of excluding NASA from that freeze, particularly if there is a continuing resolution for part or all of FY2009, since the combination of a CR and a freeze would likely lengthen the gap or force NASA to raid other programs to keep Constellation on track. He said he was not optimistic that such an exemption could be worked out.

I’ll have a more thorough review of the panel and its implications on the overall space policy debate in Monday’s issue of The Space Review.

73 comments to The so-so space debate: initial impressions

  • Bob Mahoney

    My impressions, watching on C-SPAN:

    a) Space remains a peripheral issue for all 3 campaigns.

    b) Garber (Clinton’s advisor) is obviously familiar with the details of the issues (as was O’brien); the others seemed prepared only to speak philosophically. But even Garber acknowledged (a) above.

    c) Robinson (Obama’s advisor) seemed to be going out of his way to sing the praises of robotic exploration and downplay the value of human exploration, even if he (embarrassingly) spoke of being on Mars for “six days.” (Obviously speaking of Phoenix. Is the Obama campaign unaware of the MERs? Or any other current Martian spacecraft?) His comments struck me as firmly aligned with Obama’s earliest statements regarding [raiding & freezing] Constellation.

    All in all, the discussion didn’t offer a lot of hope (IMO) for the future of human spaceflight as far as the next president goes. “Fiscal realities” and “other priorities” seem to be getting ready to step to the fore no matter whom we elect.

  • […] Afternoon Part 1: Managing Growth in a Small Space Company/Space Angels Network: Hobbyspace Part 2: Apollo vs Constellation/Yuri’s Night/Space Tourism and The Space Treaties: Hobbyspace Part 3: Low Cost Access to Space panel: Hobbyspace Part 4: Election 2008 Space Panel: Space Politics […]

  • willy

    Guys, we have to be honest. What we saw happen at this meeting was a panel with Lori being oftenly praised [much to her and her candidate’s credit], Mr Floyd who was there to tout his candidate’s involvement in space and climate change issues [much to his credit as well], and Dr. Robinson being mostly pounded.
    I think the Obama folks are very interesting [and quite fondly I might add] people. You could see that Dr. Steve engaged, most of the time, with Miles in an argument of the past vs. the future. It was great. [I think the future won by the way].
    You could see that Miles was intimidated by Steve, i.e. with the “All hat and no cattle” remark at the beginning, and the photo in the “Onion” journal.
    I think that out of all the panelists, Dr. Steve articulated the vision of where this country needs to be.
    – it is clear that the Obama administration wants to strike a balance between being fiscally responsible, and increasing NASA funding. No objective observer believes that this administration will decrease NASA funding overall, over the long-term.
    – Yes manned exploration is important, but having everybody being able to interact with a probe on Mars in real-time will be AMAZING. I don’t know about you but I want to be able to influence activity on Mars in some way, without having to move from my chair here at home.
    – We may have been fostering false promises, by inspiring kids out there about space exploration, and not having our government feel the urgency to give them the opportunities to make these visions into realities.


    Love you guys.

  • Willy – what about those of us who aren’t interested in space because of science? What about those who want to go to space, not to see camera pictures, but actually go to space, whether to feel zero-g, or to make money with space manufacturing, or who feel a spiritual connection to the black void?

    In short (and I say this as someone who will vote for the Democratic nominee, regardless) what about those of us who care about space development, rather than space science? After all, if its people that make things happen (which I agree with, actually) then if there is noone in space, is nothing happening?

  • BTW, I probably should add that we can all help influence Obama’s space policy by joining the Space Policy Advisory Group, and espcially if you intend to donate to the Obama campaign, donate through that group, since fundraising really gets people’s attention.

  • willy

    Ferris – your points are well-taken. The comment about “influencing” activity on space is a personal one. But I think you would agree that “influencing activity” is not limited to “cameras”. I think both manned and robotic exploration are equally valid. I might even argue that robotic exploration may allow us to go places further than manned exploration, due to the risks. Our views of inspirations are no longer limited, and the Obama administration understands that.

    When I said that people make things happen, it’s true. That’s why they can make things happen by INDIRECTLY sending “guinea pigs” to do their jobs. That is also a SMART move.

    Look, all I was saying is that our future lies in producing the MINDS of the 21st century, those who will realize our visions and dreams. Maybe some of them are in your family.

  • Bill White

    My take-home message from all this?

    Unless space enthusiasts locate a funding source not dependent upon Uncle Sugar (federal tax revenues) we shall always be at the mercy of shifting winds inside the Beltway.

    Locate a funding source not dependent upon Uncle Sugar and the concerns addressed here shall be very much reduced.

    Netroots Nation in July will offer another opportunity to attempt to influence progressive space policy and formulate a plan to win Congressional support for a superior implementation of a robust vision for space exploration.

  • Bill White

    PS — One possible route for advancing humans in space under an Obama Administration might be to seek to reduce the restrictions placed on American aerospace firms doing business with non-American clients.

    Japanese and European money could perhaps be blended with American technology (particularly Bigelow and SpaceX) to put non-NASA private sector astronauts into space. That will require ITAR reform and even if Obama won’t increase the human spaceflight budget maybe he would agree to end many of the onerous restrictions that now exist.

    Where does Obama stand on ITAR?

    To be candid I doubt he even has a position yet. And that offers opportunity.

  • willy – I understand your point, but you are still speaking in the langauge of exploration, or science – I think science is great, but space, and more importantly Nasa, is not about science – its about space. Its not about inspiration, its about physically expanding society.

    Let me put this another way – what would you say about space that has nothing to do with inspiration, or science? Or do you see that as the only reason to do space?


    Willy, don’t drink the Kool-Aid all at once. Obama is simply going to try to burn the ships (in this case the manned space program) just like the Chinese Emperor did centuries ago in the great turn inward. Formulating an argument that puts funding the space program against education in a budget battle is a false and completely unnecessary choice — commonly used by opponents of space exploration or any other program. Why don’t we just say if we build a road or a building we will starve poor children in America or the third world. It would be an equally false and misleading choice. The vitality of this nation — and of our species — has, at root, always gone hand in glove with expansion and exploration. This is more than simply science. It is a human on the Moon or on Mars that can do more in an hour than our robot probes can do in weeks or months. It speaks to limitless horizons for humanity in a way that machines can never do. I don’t knock our robot probes, they have been great, but they are not and can never be a substitute for human exploration. Sad to see that the man who so eagerly accepts comparisons between himself and John F. Kennedy would also be the man who so cooly and quickly puts to death the manned space program. And yes, delaying it for five years is a death sentence.

  • Spanky

    Obama is simply going to try to burn the ships

    That would be great, if ever there was a ship worth burning, it would be Orion and Ares, Constellation and ESAS, and the entire stupid Bush vision.

    That would save US anywhere from $10 to $100 billion dollars, money that we could use to build real space ships. Liquid powered. And just offhand I’m guessing that the president elect won’t be burning the fine space ships we already have in our possession, the Delta IV Medium and the Atlas V, and he sure as heckfire won’t be burning the PRIVATE spaceships under development, the Dragon, the Falcon 9 and Mr. Big’s inflatable modules.

    My koolaide is better than your koolaide. And it’s a lot cheaper too.

    And being liquid, my koolaide pitcher can be refilled a lot faster as well.

    You’re supposed to mix water with your koolaide before you drink it, but I’m not really surprised that you didn’t know that. Americans don’t surprise me at all anymore, after putting up with the insanity for seven plus years.

  • MRing

    Stargazer wrote, as far as I’m concerned, the most insightful comment in this thread. I can’t tell from that post what Stargazer’s political position is, and that is how it probably should be. Some of the rest here, and in other comment threads to other articles I’ve read, are simply Obama apologists, looking for a silver rhetorical lining in any puff of smoke the Obama campaign puts out. It’s understandable from one perspective; anyone that watches the Republican side of the race knows many people will vote for McCain while simultaneously profoundly disagreeing with some position or another. Likewise, if Obama is best for the country but not for NASA in the opinion of a Democrat voter, then space shouldn’t be a decisive issue.

    But to pretend Obama will somehow be something good for NASA is a stretch. To pretend McCain will be good for NASA is a stretch. None of them will be great for NASA, because … nobody but us cares. Obama is aware of people like Spanky and Ferris, who will vote for him regardless of his position on space, so he is aware that he can kill any manned lunar or Mars plans and take zero hit at the ballot box. In politics, thats all that matters.

  • willy

    It is amazing how the “label/slogan/bumper-sticker politics” of our time have stopped us from having a meaninful debate. If you lean towards Obama, you are drinking some kool-aid, or you are “all hat and no cattle”, like Miles pointed out. Did anybody notice that his remark came very early in the questioning, just like he already had a preconceived notion of the Obama camp.

    It is also amazing that people haven’t realized that Obama [like Lincoln was; they are both “from” Illinois], is the most PRAGMATIC out of all the candidates. I don’t think being fiscally responsible, while fostering interest in space exploration, by producing the scientific leaders of tomorrow, is drinking a kool-aid. (lol)
    No, instead of trying to go to the root of problems, we would rather use BANDAIDS and PATCHES (bumper-sticker politics, I am also guilty of it) for temporary satisfactions.
    It is critically important that the U.S. leads in scientific innovation; the space enterprise can ONLY benefit from it. WE WILL PRODUCE THE GREAT MINDS OF THE 21ST CENTURY. That is a fact.

    Still love u guys.

  • Spanky

    None of them will be great for NASA, because … nobody but us cares.

    You totally misunderstand.

    We don’t care what’s good for NASA, we care what is BAD for NASA.

    George W. Bush, Michael Griffin, VSE, ESAS, Constellation, Ares and Orion are the WORST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED to NASA. We won’t be able to figure out what’s good for NASA until we STOP THE BLEEDING.

    NASA is on the operating table – we’re just trying to save the patient.

    I’m voting for Obama because of his position on space, and nothing else.

    The world is bigger than America, and space isn’t going anywhere soon.

    Are you bleeding, or are you just choking on powdered koolaide?

  • willy

    Your statements don’t make quite sense “Spanky”, but I guess I concede the point. In a country in debt of more than 3 bilion dollars, and still borrowing from foreign nations like China, I would think that our options would be limited.

    And I know the Obama campaign and administration will LISTEN to concerns from “actual scientists” and other space agency officers when it comes to these issues, which tells me that they DO care. They sure don’t have the monopoly of ideas.

  • Paul F. Dietz

    In a country in debt of more than 3 bilion dollars,

    Much, more more.

  • Paul F. Dietz

    In a country in debt of more than 3 bilion dollars,

    Much, much more.

  • Spanky

    In a country in debt of more than 3 bilion dollars

    Mr. Obama’s educational initiative is coming not a moment too soon.

  • That’s all well and good. But he should pay for it someway other than by shattering America’s manned space program.

  • Mr. Obama’s educational initiative is coming not a moment too soon.

    Over the past two decades, the annual budget of the Dept. of Education has increased by about 17 billion dollars, to 67.9 billion. Note that Education’s 17 billion increase exceeds NASA’s entire budget. So what has this extraordinary funding accomplished? Nothing. The 12th grade scores in math and science continue to decline. Given these results, what could possibly make you think that decimating manned spaceflight just to throw more money into the Education rat hole would be good for the nation?

  • Spanky

    what could possibly make you think that decimating manned spaceflight just to throw more money into the Education rat hole would be good for the nation?

    Only a FOOL would equate education with money. That being said, I don’t believe that eliminating the VSE, ESAS, Constellation, Ares and Orion would decimate manned space flight, on the contrary, I believe it would be the only thing right now that could SAVE human spaceflight. It matters not how it is done, or where the money goes, it just matters that it’s done, soon.

    Clearly Mr. Obama is clueless about NASA and the space program, but that won’t last long when or if he becomes president. VSE, ESAS, Constellation, Ares and Orion are a great danger to the American human space flight program, and anyone who argues otherwise is a FOOL: by my standards.

    I won’t regurgitate the arguments against VSE and ESAS here again.

    It would be a waste of time for the powder drinkers.

  • willy

    I meant more than 3 trillion dollars. My bad. But you catch my drift.

  • willy

    I have also come to realize that the person[, the campaign, or the administration] getting the most crtitique IS the one who [which] gives people the MOST HOPE for their future. I will not waste time telling you that the Obama administration will be perfect, cause it won’t, but be confident that the goals that I set above WILL be achieved. And the most important thing is that this is an administration that WILL LISTEN to your concerns, and not discount them.

  • spectator

    Obama will throw Nasa under the bus just as assuredly as he threw his pastor of 20 years, his church of 20 years and his friends of many years. Obama is as opportunistic a politician as Dick Nixon was. This is important because whatever he says about Nasa today, tomorrow or in October won’t matter at all. But the genius of our government is that BHO will have to face the barrons on Capitol Hill and we are seeing a decent coalition forming that actually supports the intent of the VSE. There will be quite a cat fight as Obama attempts to gut Nasa and I expect he’ll lose that fight. I expect Congress will fund Nasa close to current out year projections.

  • Willy, you still haven’t addressed my points, about spaceflight being something other than about inspiration or science – what about it? Also you said

    And I know the Obama campaign and administration will LISTEN to concerns from “actual scientists” and other space agency officers when it comes to these issues, which tells me that they DO care.

    What about non-scientists, or people not from the agency? will they get any air time? Again, you (and Obama) are say space is just science, and just inspiration – what about commercial development? What about international relations? What about using space resources to deal with the problems of global warming (not just for observational purposes, but something like Space Based Solar Power)? What about space property rights? Hell, what about space colonization?

    spectator – nasa’s track record of success is hardly stellar, espcially in recent years – if we are going to fund nasa at the current levels, and keep doing what we have been doing, I submit that the money would be better spent elsewhere. ESAS is a mess, and VSE is dead.

  • spectator

    If you look at Nasa as the Department of Interior, then you are correct, Nasa hasn’t performed well. But Nasa attempts to do the near impossible with a very unforgiving budget. Judge them from that. Nasa doesn’t manage trees, minerals or bison. Nasa lives out by 10 on the scale of difficulty comparison.

    Lets take a stroll down Memory Lane. Despite what Obama’s science guy thinks, Nasa has parked 3 landers perfectly on Mars. Nasa has parked 2 orbiters perfectly in orbit around Mars. Nasa has managed to deal with an exploding shuttle, hurricanes hitting their manufacturing sites while continuing to build the ISS. Nasa has launched a probe to Pluto. Nasa is commanding dozens of probes from Saturn to Mercury. All of these tasks require near perfection to be successful. Some of the tasks do in fact require perfection such as landing on Mars, orbiting Saturn, launching a shuttle. Nasa is the place where not being near perfect causes loss of mission or loss of crew. So get real, look at Nasa realistically.

    Where Nasa can be fallible such as budgeting and execution of programs, sure they screw up like most other federal agencies. What do you propose, shutdown the VA? How about the Dept of Education? Interior? They certainly make as many goofs as Nasa.

  • Spectator,
    You should look at who is actually designing and sending those landers to Mars. In most cases universities are taking the lead, not NASA. JPL, which sent the two rovers is not a NASA center but an FFRDC. Phoenix has the University of Arizona as lead. So the things that do work at “NASA” seem to work specifically because NASA isn’t in the lead. One of the items suggested in the Aldridge Commission’s report was to convert several of the existing NASA centers to FFRDCs so they could get out from underneath the bureaucratic blanket that NASA smothers everything with.
    Secondly, please be very clear about that you are critiquing. The Vision for Space Exploration is NOT the same thing as ESAS which is NASA’s interpretation of it. Statements such as “stupid Bush vision” do little to help since you seem to conflate the Vision with NASA’s warped implementation of it. Go back and read the actual vision statement published by the Whitehouse (and even the Aldridge Commission even though that seemed to be dead on arrival) and look at it again.

    One question I did have is how much of Lori Garver’s (could people please get her name right, ghees!) position statements were hers vs which ones were Hillary Clinton’s? One difference I noticed between Lori and the others was that the others seemed to be attempting to channel their candidate and consider what they would say, whereas Lori seemed to saying whatever Lori wanted to say. Its easy to make policy pronouncements on a panel like that when your candidate outsources their policy decisions to you. That could be a plus or a minus for you to consider when voting for Hillary but maybe we should cut the others some slack for trying to represent their candidate as opposed to just turning their personal opinion into policy statements.

  • First a question to everyone – is there really much point in arguing VSE vs ESAS? Yes, for those of us inside, we see a difference, but for most on the outside, it doesn’t matter whether you say Ares or Orion, or Constellation, or VSE, or whatever, it all means effectively the same thing to the outside – The 2 rockets and the crew module and the lander, and thats it. And given that VSE is nothing more than a statement of purpose, without funding, and only things happen when money gets spent (which means ESAS – and suddenly I am back to using alphabet soup), does it really matter about differentiating between VSE and ESAS? Especially when a new president will be in soo, and will likely change things drastically?

    Spectator – Before I begin, I should’ve clarified that I was more talking about the manned flight, but I didn’t, and for that oversite, I apologize. However, Obama has definitively endorsed at least unmanned probes, and those aren’t going away. However, the manned programs benefit is questionable (although I believe some of its is defensible), especially since not everyone can take advantage of the manned program. Further, I would argue that the current plan moves us in an even worse direction than what we’ve had in the past – it isn’t going to be cheap, it’ll have reduce flight rate, and I am yet to be convinced that we’ll get any sort of moonbase out of it – we have 2 rockets, a crew vehicle, and a lander (and, ok, yea, an Earth Departure stage)

    Again, if we are forced into the dicotamy of either having the current plan, or not having a manned program, I’d argue we’d be better with the later – I don’t believe we have to go down that path, but if we are, then I’d rather use the money else where

  • spectator

    Ferris, I’m sure you didn’t mean to ascribe this to me “secondly, please be very clear about that you are critiquing. The Vision for Space Exploration is NOT the same thing as ESAS which is NASA’s interpretation of it. Statements such as “stupid Bush vision” do little to help” .

    Since I never addressed the VSE, ESAS or Bush’s intelligence and vision. All that I have addressed today is BHO and Nasa.

    As to your splitting off Nasa from the work of universities all I can say is when Mars Observer failed, who caught the blame? Since Nasa pays the bills, they are always held responsible. Lets not be so grudging not to allow a few acollades to Nasa’s successes.

    Actually I do get the distinction between VSE and ESAS as I’ve read them both. What I don’t get is how a continual argument of which is the better space truck gets us anywhere. I don’t doubt that someone could start clean sheet and design something better than the stick and Ares V. I strongly suspect that if Nasa dropped everything and said “OMG, how could we have missed this super dupper design”, that Nasa would be dead as an agency. VSE would die for another 20 years, we’d be no closer to leaving LEO and we’d leave the real exploration and discovery to others.

    Doesn’t sound good to me. I’d rather go ahead with what we’ve been spending money on for the last 3 years. Even if its not the best. Even if there is a shiner truck that is faster, better and cheaper. Remember how faster, better and cheaper worked out? It gave us Mars Observer.

  • factchecker

    You have it backwards… Mars Observer gave us faster, better, cheaper.

  • Bill White

    spectator –

    One comment I definitely remember Lori Garver making about Mars (I watched the video on CSPAN on Sunday) was (paraphrased):

    “How can we expect a President to get excited about going to Mars when it can’t possibly happen during his or her term in office?”

    Related, if Ares 1 first flies crew in 2016 why should POTUS #44 give two hoots?

    Also If Ares 1 doesn’t fly crew until 2016 and Ares V doesn’t fly until several years after that, Ares V will NEVER fly since the manufacturing base will have deteriorated from non-use. If Ares V is to use the external tanks made at Michoud, Michoud needs to continue making those tanks without significant interruption.

  • spectator

    Bill White, I agree with you that long term Federal programs can die from lack of parentage. However, there are ample examples every year of long term programs father years before that continue to be funded. The DOD has them by the billions. In Nasa’s case, the ISS was funded going back to RR in 1984 and funded by GHWB, Bill Clinton and now GWB.

    The Space Shuttle was fathered by Dick Nixon and funded by Ford, Carter and Reagan.

    Usually its Congress that keeps the ball rolling anyway, as I’m sure you know. Those guys and gals usually outlast any President. The genius to my rather poorer mind is that VSE is predicated upon using Nasa’s existing inflation adjusted budget to develop the trucks and technology to go anywhere in the solar system. No grandiose 1 trillion dollar program, just slow and steady. Surely that shouldn’t be too tough for Washington?
    Remember by the time either McCain or Obama take office, Nasa should be fairly close to Ares I-X. All contracts will have been let. It will be a hard program to kill in Congress.

  • Spectator,

    so you’re saying that the best hope Nasa has is shear inertia? It doesn’t matter of it actually produces something worthwhile, or that we might be looking at countless redesigns? The best we can hope for is shear inertia? If you really hope to move to the moon, on sheer inertia of the current plan, well, any odds you care to name – Ares V won’t get funded, the Lander won’t get funded, and we’ll end up with Orion and Ares I in earth orbit – and I bet on that whether its McCain or Obama.

  • Whoever wins election…


    Future planetary robotic missions, built and ready to service-done deal.

    Ares1&5, built and ready to service-done deal.
    (gotta get off the launch pad if you wanna play in space)

    Orion & lunar module built and ready to service-done deal.

    Oh… and what about the Space Shuttle fleet?
    Rented out to private U.S. consortiums.

    The best politics is the politics of progress!

  • GRS

    The best politics is the politics of progress!

    This politics, however, does not jive with fiscal realities. My prediction is number 1 above, and that’s it. Change the “done” to “no” in numbers 2-4.

    I will be optimistic that the vacuum of human spaceflight can be filled by entrepreneurial enterprises.

  • Stargazer, you approach an interesting observation without quite getting there. Why is it that the “humanists” in the Democratic party are so ready to trust robotics? You would think that they, of all people, would be most interested in sending human beings into the solar system. If you believe that humans are somehow unique and above “mere machines,” why would you trust machines to do something as important as exploring your environment?

    — Donald

  • Oh… and what about the Space Shuttle fleet?
    Rented out to private U.S. consortiums.


    This post is certainly from another fiscal reality.

  • Oh… and what about the Space Shuttle fleet?
    Rented out to private U.S. consortiums.


    This post is certainly from another fiscal reality.

    I don’t know Rand – they might make money as museum pieces.

  • It is news that Bill Nelson has been talking to John Glenn, and that the POTUS election , esp. Obama, will need FL and Ohio, putting space as key talking points for these states.
    Glenn is on record for ISSNL utilization, and Nelson needs launches from space coast. And that would be human-rated launches and resupply. That is not such bad news, really. I am also intrigued that Obama is talking about American leadership in space. Since that is at-risk, at the present, that seems a rather declarative statement that I did not expect to see at this juncture. A guy from Chicago would not really be expected to be all up on the space program, so why not focus on education for that campaign, rather than guessing that the very worst can and will happen? It is too soon to say what will happen. Floyd and Lori’s competence at the debate will raise the bar for the Obama campaign, at the least, and Nelson in the mix will accelerate the Obama team’s learning curve on space, as they now look to the main event in the fall.

  • Bill White

    I believe Kathleen is exactly right

    Also, with McCain’s representative suggesting to Jeff Foust that NASA would not be excluded from the McCain freeze on discretionary spending, Obama has little incentive to distance himself from McCain at the moment. At least until Bill Nelson and Obama sit down to discuss their “Florida” strategy. And that cannot happen until a certain someone officially exits the race, insofar as Bill Nelson is well known as a solid Hillary Clinton supporter.

    In the meantime, repeated blitz-es of Congress (both Democratic & GOP) would seem in order since Presidential “leadership” is not likely no matter who wins in November.

  • […] Space Politics — Watching three representatives of the current Presidential candidates talk about space policy a few days ago was deeply dissatisfying to me. The 27th Annual International Space Development Conference, “The New Pace of Space,” was held in Washington, D.C., May 29 – June 1, 2008. Friday afternoon the featured event, “Election 2008 Space Panel.” To quote from the Space Politics story: […]

  • Ferris,
    Re: First a question to everyone – is there really much point in arguing VSE vs ESAS?

    I think it is but it really depends on how you argue against it. If you specifically say something like “I think President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration is wrong” then you’re really going to have to say what’s wrong with it. And the Vision statement itself is very generalized and has many of the “balanced robotics vs humans”, “fits within the budget realities”, “Lets figure out how to go to Mars” stuff that everyone here has been saying throughout the thread. What of those do you specifically have a problem with as a vision statement?

    Now, if you end up trying to say something like this: “President Bush failed to manage NASA because he’s a super-sucky Republican and his mother dresses him funny so we’re going to go do something different” (i.e. you don’t talk about the Vision directly) then I guess its OK. But you’re still going to have to come up with something to replace the VSE with and even if you call it the NHSE (New Hope for Space Exploration) I’m willing to lay money on it and the current VSE having about 99% in common with each other.

    For those who would like to replace the entire VSE with something different (NOT ESAS, just VSE), what is exactly wrong with the Vision as Bush stated it?

  • Kathleen: A guy from Chicago would not really be expected to be all up on the space program,

    Isn’t Boeing headquartered in Chicago? Maybe he should get up to speed quickly. That said, I emphatically am not against the emphasis on education. In the long term, that is a prerequisit to anything and everything else.

    — Donald

  • Bill White

    My biggest single beef with the text of the VSE is the use of the phrase “human presence” to muddle around the question of permanent settlement.

    After all, we have a permanent human presence in Antarctica right now which forbids the development of mineral resources and which is not aimed at starting permanent human communities.

    Therefore, despite generally my low opinion of our “Chimp-ster” POTUS I agree that the language of the VSE is actually pretty good.

    = = =

    Someday I hope that a good historian with strong insider connections tells us the true “inside baseball” account as to how Admiral Steidle’s spiral development program morphed into ESAS with neither Congress or the White House expressing few if any reservations whatsoever.

    For the record, I believed then and I believe now that an all EELV VSE would have been a pork laden feast for Boeing and Lockmart and would have stifled COTS in its crib (both ESAS and DIRECT leave a niche for Falcon 9 or Taurus that wouldn’t exist with EELV) however the bloodless coup accomplished by Dr. Griffin against Steidle’s plans remains historically remarkable, IMHO.

    = = =

    Finally, the new DIRECT 2.0 video is very good, IMHO:

  • Me

    “COTS in its crib (both ESAS and DIRECT leave a niche for Falcon 9 or Taurus that wouldn’t exist with EELV)”

    incorrect. Falcon 9 or Taurus II are in the Delta II class. Anyways, who says Falcon 9 or Taurus II get CSR contracts vs EELV based entrants. Also COTS could just produce two more stillborn or dead end projects (Conestoga, X-34, amroc, Delta III, X-33, K-1, Roton, etc)

  • Me, Falcon 9 is a Delta IV class rocket, not Delta II.

    Micheal,, I don’t think you quite get what I am saying. Do I have a problem with VSE? Other than some minor quibbles, of the like Bill mentioned, I think its fine. One the other hand, ESAS and Constellation, I have real problems with. Not quibbles, but real fundamental problems.

    However, thats not really my point – my point is that for the average person (IE non-space nuts), arguing VSE vs ESAS causes their eyes to glaze over, and means nothing to them. Its an inside Baseball debate that, frankly, is not helpful in any way shape or form. It is, if you will, a bit like the debate about who should regulate the Hedge fund industry – the OSC or the SEC – the average person doesn’t really know, and won’t care – if they thought about it at all, they just want the federal government to regulate the industry, and don’t care about the alphabet soup.

    Its very similar with VSE and ESAS – The average person sees it as the same thing, and are very likely to continue to see it that way, and by the time everyone understands the differnce, it’ll be 2015 or 2020. The average person doesn’t care about mission statements, which is all that VSE is – they care about money getting spent.

  • Someday I hope that a good historian with strong insider connections tells us the true “inside baseball” account as to how Admiral Steidle’s spiral development program morphed into ESAS with neither Congress or the White House expressing few if any reservations whatsoever.

    Congress and the White House hired Mike Griffin to be in charge of NASA. Why would they second guess him?

  • me

    “Me, Falcon 9 is a Delta IV class rocket, not Delta II”

    Nope, only in marketing spin it is, in actual performance, it isn’t an EELV class

  • Bill White

    Congress and the White House hired Mike Griffin to be in charge of NASA

    Given the Planetary Society report (essentially ESAS) HOW Congress and the White House came to hire Mike Griffin would be another way to ask the question.

  • me – you’re going to have to point to some sort of basis for that – looking at 3 different sources, the payload to LEO is in the range of that of the Delta IV, not in the range of the Delta 2 From the SpaceX website,

    LEO Mass to Orbit (200 km circular): 11,290 kg
    GTO Mass to Orbit (185 x 35,788 km): 4,640 kg

    Now, if we consider the Delta II

    Payload to LEO — 2,700 – 6,100 kg
    Payload to GTO — 900 – 2,170 kg

    However, if we consider the Delta IV

    Payload to LEO — 8,600 – 25,800 kg
    Payload to GTO 3,900 – 10,843 kg

    Now, I admit there is a range in the numbers for the Delta vehicles, where as there is no range. However, those numbers reflect a range of altitudes, and configurations (including the Delta IV Heavy). However, even acounting for that, the Falcon 9 values fall in the the range of the Delta IV, not the Delta II

  • Habitat Hermit

    If people when given a brief up-to-speed statement and opinion like:
    The VSE is the vision, ESAS is NASA’s choice of implementation of that vision but contradicts it and the support Congress gave the vision through the Aldridge Commission’s report and ESAS is also a really bad idea for several other reasons
    show no interest then shouldn’t one just let them be? Government space activities (or good/efficient/sensible governance for that matter as it ties into this question) are obviously not important enough for them and they get to choose what is so that’s ok, focus on the ones whose eyes don’t glaze over instead (few if any have the capacity to truly care about everything, nothing inherently wrong about that).

  • Habitat – If they truly aren’t interested, then you’re right. But its not that they aren’t interested – its that going through the full explanation of what you did doesn’t work unless you have a large public platform to speak from, and space advocates don’t have anything close.

    Consider the following point – there is this craft that is designed to take humans and cargo to the space station – I am in fact refering to Dragon, and COTS. And yet, with that description, you could easily make the case that I am talking about Shuttle.

    Given that, shouldn’t we consider Dragon as the real shuttle replacement? Except we don’t – we consider Orion as the shuttle replacement, and we are inside the industry – those on the outside, its even more true.

    And the reality is, to influence the policy makers, we have to influence those people who like space, but whose eyes glaze over when you get to very specific policy and programs.

  • Habitat Hermit

    I do consider Dragon the de facto replacement when it comes to human spaceflight. Ares I won’t fly before the next president is done with the first four years and if he or she should get a second term it might not even get ready before that one is over either.

    I’m conflicted about what you’re saying about the politics, on one level I really like what you’re doing and most (maybe all) of your reasons as I know them. If it breeds thought and discussion I’m all for it but I’m pretty sure it won’t if people just “like space” but choke on a few acronyms, and where does that leave us?

  • Me

    “shouldn’t we consider Dragon as the real shuttle replacement?”

    No, that is a ludicrous statement. Falcon 1 hasn’t even flown successfully, what makes everyone think Falcon 9/Dragon is a given? Falcon 1 isn’t even a viable replacement for Pegasus. Where is this koolade that everyone is drinking?

  • Me,
    Because nothing in the ESAS architecture has even flown unsuccessfully. I’ll take a failed flight attempt over powerpoint and analysis ad infinitum any day of the week and twice on Tuesdays.

  • Me

    “Because nothing in the ESAS architecture has even flown unsuccessfully.”

    That has nothing to do with Spacex’s capabilities to do anything. Nor is spacex the only game in town. Actually, spacex has to get in the majors first before they can get in the game. If NASA wants to do COTS D, there would be other more experienced players available.

  • Me,
    maybe there is something out there that is better than Dragon, but nothing has been offered up by other companies that are getting funded by Nasa – there is a lot of talk about man-rating an Atlas, which I think is fine, but Nasa isn’t funding it. RpK is not being funded by Nasa anymore, and the other companies that have COTS style Space Act Agreements with Nasa are all unfunded. And while Orbital is being funded, their COTS proposal doesn’t have a crew option at this point.

    What would you consider is the successor to the space shuttle?

  • There will not be, and should not be, a “successor to the Space Shuttle.” What does this phrase even mean?

  • Rand,
    Whether we like it or not, there is an emerging media narrative about Orion being “The successor to the space shuttle.” I’ve seen it used many times, espcially by traditional and non-space media.

    I agree the phrase is ambiguous, which is why I am raising the question – Obviously, it has to be manned, and related to Nasa, but beyond that, its rather ambiguous – Are we refering to a vehicle owned and operated by Nasa? Then it most certainly has to be Orion. Are we talking about a craft thats trying for routine access to earth orbit, that will be used to help the space station? Then something like Dragon makes more sense. Or are we referring to something that has a large scale cargo bay, in which case there is no such thing.

    But if you ask the average person about the successor to the space shuttle, they’ll almost certainly say Orion, without thinking. And thats my point – much like the question of what is the successor of the space shuttle, the debate about “VSE vs ESAS vs whatever else” is an inside baseball debate that means nothing to the average person – to the average person, ESAS, VSE, Orion, Ares, Constellation, all these things just mean 2 rockets (which are refered to as Ares I and V) a capsule, and a lunar lander. The rest of the alphabet soup is inside baseball stuff that they don’t have time to care about.

    If we had some sort of major platform to explain the difference to people, then it might be worth while, so they can appriciate the nuance, but space is a third tier issue (if that high) which means arguing about VSE vs ESAS, and explaining the difference, will take a lot of time and energy, that we don’t have if we want something other than the 2 rockets, a capsule, and a lander that we currently have.

    Thats my point – we are arguing an inside baseball thing, that has no relevance to outsiders, and is distracting us from getting real good space policy

  • Me

    You don’t know if “there is something out there that is better than Dragon ” because many companies are currently putting their proposals together for the next big prize, the CSR contract, which makes the COTS money look like peanuts

  • Thats my point – we are arguing an inside baseball thing, that has no relevance to outsiders, and is distracting us from getting real good space policy

    No, the thing that keeps us from getting good space policy making is that those making policy can’t even be bothered to understand the inside baseball stuff themselves. It doesn’t help when we play the same word games.

  • Me – would you agree that, whatever else you might want to say, the “successor to the Space Shuttle” must have Nasa money in it, and must have human capabilities with it?

    As of right now, CSR has not been awarded (which means it might very well end up with Dragon/Falcon 9), and I don’t believe CSR has a manned capability (although I admit, my memory may be faulty here – feel free to correct me).

    Until CSR meets fully those to requrements, I think it can’t be considered “successor to the space shuttle”

    However, even if it should be, you are making my point for me, which is this is an inside baseball debate, that isn’t helping us get good space policy.

  • Rand,

    If we can’t get the average person more engaged on space above and beyond “space good”, we’ll never get the policy makers. And do you honestly think the average person will care about VSE vs ESAS, or Direct vs ESAS vs EELV vs whatever?

  • If we can’t get the average person more engaged on space above and beyond “space good”, we’ll never get the policy makers.

    Then it’s not going to happen.

    But I disagree with your premise. Space policy has never been, and (unless it somehow becomes much more prominent) never will be driven by “the average person.” It’s always decided within the space policy community, pretty much divorced from the voters. The only time that it’s ever been even potentially a voting issue was just after Sputnik.

  • Rand,
    I guess we’ll have to chalk this one up as one we don’t agree on, then.

  • Well, my opinion has a lot of historical, empirical data to back it up. Yours is simply wishful thinking. No one has ever won an election based on space policy. The only person I know of whose election was even influenced by emphasizing it was Jack Schmitt. He lost.

  • Bob Mahoney

    Apologies to Lori for messing up her name. I haven’t been feeling too well lately and have mixed up a few names in recent e-comms. Sorry.

    I concur with Rand regarding space & elections and who dictates the policy in our current (as in, dating from the early 1960s through today) “system.” McCurdy’s “The Space Station Decision” does a good job of highlighting how convoluted this process can be.

    But Ferris’s observation about needing to engage the public has certain merit. If (and, yes, it’s a big, wishful IF) we could make space a larger element of the public’s consciousness (something which NASA PAO has done such a dismal job at, almost seeming to be trying to do the opposite), perhaps a more widespread interest in space will grow sufficiently strong that the public can once again play a substantial role in shaping (or at least pushing) the policy in a positive way.

    Might take a decade or more, but with today’s communications technology, maybe not. Please see ( for some seed ideas on how. I don’t see a downside to trying this in parallel with working near-term with the current congress/executive/policy-wonks “system” that’s currently in place.

  • Rand, I don’t believe I claimed that anyone’s election was heavily influence by space policy. Bob Mahoney came pretty close to hitting the mark. You and I, and the rest of the space activist community, I would argue are trying to convince both the policy makers, to have good policy, and the public, to better understand its relation to space. After all, up until fairly recently, the idea of computer security was not seen as a large-scale issue, and today, net-neutrality is a huge issue.

    And I would argue that those of us out in blogger land are just as much engaging the non-space public, as we are the space policy makers, if not more so. And to the non-space public, arguing VSE vs ESAS is rather pointless, as is EELV vs Direct vs Ares

  • anonymouspace

    “Obama is simply going to try to burn the ships (in this case the manned space program) just like the Chinese Emperor did centuries ago in the great turn inward… Sad to see that the man who so eagerly accepts comparisons between himself and John F. Kennedy would also be the man who so cooly and quickly puts to death the manned space program.”

    This is very overblown and highly inaccurate rhetoric that bears no resemblance whatsoever to what the Obama representative actually said at the ISDC panel:

    “Steve Robinson, an Obama staffer who works primarily on education issues, said that space policy was part of the campaign’s broader science policy.”

    “He also said Obama would create a ’supportive environment for scientific research and space exploration’ in the public and private sectors, ‘including the new generation of entrepreneurs who are interested in space exploration.’”

    “‘My boss, Senator Obama, has come out and said that, overall, science funding, nationally, needs to double, and that includes an increase in NASA funding,’ he said.”

    “Robinson added that a National Research Council study concluded that NASA was being tasked with more work that it could afford to do with its current budget. ‘The rallying cry, I think, for NASA now is that we will go as we can afford to pay. That’s not exactly an inspirational message, and that’s something I think my boss would like to look at and decide how to do this.’”

    See (add http://www):

    Nothing that the Obama representative said indicates that he is trying to “burn the ships” or put “to death the manned space program”. Please, let’s read and absorb what the campaigns are actually saying before throwing invective around based on what we think or want the campaigns to be saying.


  • […] the event is going to be a debate on the space policies of the presidential candidates, similar to the one held during the ISDC in Washington in late May. Representing the Obama campaign will be Lori Garver, who represented the Hillary Clinton campaign […]

  • smith

    Now that the herd has tghinned Obama and McCain reps have done another full on debate. I think it actually was a LOT more full-on this time… since Obama flopped *big time* in Titusville a few weeks back.

    The Debate was at the August Mars Society Convention in Boulder.

    YouTube has an edit of the opening remarks at:“>

    And the Mars Society has the 100% full debate at:

    I dunno, you tell me… at least this one got good & nasty at times :)

  • Jeff Foust


    As you may have already discovered after perusing the archives here, we had a post summarizing the debate up just a few hours after it took place:

    Thanks for visiting and reading!

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