It’s rare to see a major newspaper devote editorial space to, well, space. However, on Wednesday two of the nation’s largest newspapers (as well as one smaller paper that more frequently covers space issues) took on the topic in editorials and op-eds:
Leading off, the Los Angeles Times examines the proposed space policies of presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama in an editorial. The editors note that McCain “supports the vision for space exploration that President Bush articulated in 2004″ while Obama has proposed delaying Constellation by five years. (The editorial doesn’t note that, more recently, Obama has proclaimed his support for Ares 1 and Orion, the two major early components of Constellation.)
“Who’s right? There’s something to be said for pulling the plug on Constellation,” the editorial continues, suggesting that NASA rely on commercial services or international partners for human spaceflight, allowing it to spend more money on robotic missions. But then the editors worry that, since many robotic missions could be perceived “as the necessary prep work for human exploration”, this could boomerang against those missions—and the paper’s parochial interests at JPL.
The editorial concludes that the Bush-McCain approach “nicely balances realism and ambition”, but that Obama “is sounding like the more realistic, market-oriented candidate” because he wants to enhance NASA’s role in earth sciences research in addition to promoting more international and private-sector cooperation.
Meanwhile, a New York Times op-ed makes an argument for space solar power (SSP). O. Glenn Smith, a former manager of ISS experiments at JSC, reviews the arguments for SSP, including the use of the ISS as a testbed for SSP experiments. (He glosses over one of the major issues, the cost of launching a SSP system, saying that launch services being developed by SpaceX and Orbital under the COTS program “could be adapted to sending up a solar power satellite system”. However, even the NSSO report about SSP released last year admitted that “The vehicle fleet necessary to place a SBSP system into orbit does not exist today” and that a new generation of RLVs are required.) Smith’s closing argument: “[I]n a time of some skepticism about the utility of our space program, NASA should realize that the American public would be inspired by our astronauts working in space to meet critical energy needs here on Earth.” (See recent discussions about the potential conflict between alternative energy research and space exploration.)
Finally, Florida Today argues for “spreading the NASA gospel” to local businesses, so that they, in turn, will support the space agency. The editorial was spurred by a recent meeting at KSC that attracted about 100 chamber of commerce officials from across the state, most of whom hasn’t been there before. “Converting business leaders to the cause is important for building the kind of broad backing necessary to convince the state’s elected officials in the Legislature and Congress that NASA’s future is critical to all Floridians, not just Brevard County residents,” the editorial argues. However, business leaders are often less swayed by rhetoric like “the NASA gospel” and “the cause” then by hard economic data; there’s little of that in the editorial other than the claim that the retirement of the shuttle “could result in the loss of 6,400 jobs”, even though NASA cut that estimate to as little as 3,000 jobs last month.