Campaign '08, NASA

McCain, Obama, and NASA’s 50th

It’s debatable whether Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of NASA: it was actually the anniversary of the signing of the National Aeronautics and Space Act by President Eisenhower, and NASA didn’t formally enter into existence until October 1. Nonetheless, the anniversary offered a hook for both major presidential campaigns to talk about space policy, if only at a high level.

The campaign of presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama issued a statement about the anniversary. The statement reiterated some of the themes that Obama previously discussed, including his belief that “Americans are no longer inspired as they once were” by the agency and its activities. “In recent years, Washington has failed to give NASA a robust, balanced and adequately funded mission… That’s a failure of leadership,” he said in the statement. “I believe we need to revitalize NASA’s mission to maintain America’s leadership, and recommit our nation to the space program, and as President I intend to do just that,” he said, but didn’t discuss what he would do to carry out the revitalization.

Obama’s opponent, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, also issued a statement in conjunction with the anniversary. McCain offered slightly more specifics, as well as a shot at Obama. “While my opponent seems content to retreat from American exploration of Space for a decade, I am not,” he said. “As President, I will act to make ensure our astronauts will continue to explore space, and not just by hitching a ride with someone else. I intend to make sure that the NASA constellation program has the resources it needs so that we can begin a new era of human space exploration.”

As noted above, the Obama statement doesn’t really say anything new. The anniversary would have been a good opportunity to formally issue a space policy statement, even the quasi-official policy released in January but still not posted on the Obama campaign web site, but apparently not. The McCain statement only adds a little to the campaign’s brief policy statement issued during the primary season. The shot at Obama appears to reference the five-year delay in Constellation proposed in an education policy paper last November, but doesn’t note more recent statements, including both in that quasi-official policy statement and a Florida speech from May where he supports continued development of Ares 1 and Orion. It’s also unclear how McCain plans to reconcile his statement of providing Constellation with “the resources it needs” with plans for a one-year freeze in non-defense discretionary spending as well as a BRAC-like review of all federal programs.

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