I discovered while doing some research late last night that the campaign of Republican presidential candidate John McCain has issued a far more detailed space policy statement. This document replaces the one the campaign issued in January, just before the Florida primary. While the original document was only one paragraph long and made only vague statements of “strong support” for NASA and the exploration program, the new document runs for eight paragraphs, plus a set of bullet points, and goes into much greater detail about McCain’s perspectives on space policy and what he would do if elected. There’s no date on the document, so it’s not clear when it was first published, but it appears to be quite recent (at the very least, it has gotten little play in the media or online discussion.)
To start off, here are the bullet points at the end that describe what McCain would do if elected:
- Ensure that space exploration is top priority and that the U.S. remains a leader;
- Commit to funding the NASA Constellation program to ensure it has the resources it needs to begin a new era of human space exploration.
- Review and explore all options to ensure U.S. access to space by minimizing the gap between the termination of the Space Shuttle and the availability of its replacement vehicle;
- Ensure the national space workforce is maintained and fully utilized; Complete construction of the ISS National Laboratory;
- Seek to maximize the research capability and commercialization possibilities of the ISS National Laboratory;
- Maintain infrastructure investments in Earth-monitoring satellites and support systems;
- Seek to maintain the nation’s space infrastructure;
- Prevent wasteful earmarks from diverting precious resources from critical scientific research;
- and Ensure adequate investments in aeronautics research.
There are, like in Obama’s statements, a lot of unaddressed issues here. How would a President McCain minimize the gap, and how much would he be willing to spend (particularly since he has talked about a one-year freeze on discretionary non-defense spending)? What does “main the nation’s space infrastructure” mean, in terms of companies, launch facilities, jobs, etc.? How much aeronautics investment is “adequate” given the sharp declines NASA’s aeronautics programs have suffered?
A lot of the body of the text provides some background to the policy, including his desire to continue to maintain a human spaceflight program. He cites a 1971 memo from Caspar Weinberger, then deputy director of OMB, who warned that ending human spaceflight would be a sign of turning inwards and “voluntarily starting to give up our super-power status”. (See this article from The Space Review that talks about this particular memo.) “Three and a half decades later this seems equally valid, if not more so given the increased number of countries that are making significant investments in space,” the McCain statement reads.
What’s interesting is that, in some respects, the McCain space policy is now not so much different than the Obama policy on a number of issues. Both talk about minimizing or closing the gap, both mention leveraging the capabilities of the commercial sector, and both express their support for earth sciences and aeronautics research. (McCain, unlike Obama, has spoken out more strongly in favor of human exploration of the Moon and beyond.) Interestingly, while Obama has mentioned on a number of previous occasions that NASA’s current missions are not “inspirational”, McCain says something similar in his statement: “The end of the Cold War and the space race has greatly reduced the profile of space exploration as a point of national pride and an emblem of U.S. power and thus created some degree of ‘mission-rut’ for NASA.” “Mission-rut” doesn’t sound very, well, inspirational.