Campaign '08

McCain’s more detailed space policy

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.

25 comments to McCain’s more detailed space policy

  • Clint Sharpe

    Jeff,
    in brief where do the two candidates stand on space weaponization? Could you pls do a post on that — or on space review?
    -CS

  • Al Fansome

    McCain’s new statement sounds a lot more like the position of the U.S. Senate space policy consensus.

    * Support for the national laboratory,

    * Support for reducing the gap,

    * Support for ISS commercialization.

    I do wish he had talked about *specifics* for space commercialization beyond “ISS commercialization”. That is a pretty limited view of commercialization. He opened up the door to do so, but did not walk through …

    “Activity within the commercial sector continues to increase beyond the traditional role of launching satellites. In 2007, the X-Prize Foundation announced a prize of $30 million in a global competition to build the first robotic rover capable of landing on the Moon. Several companies are planning to develop and build spacecraft for space tourism.

    Why not propose a space prize, similar to his $300M energy prize? (Maybe because he was criticized by Obama for his energy prize?)

    Why not propose something specific to help the “several companies” that are planning to build spacecraft for space tourism?

    It is a good sign that he mentioned these two points (space prizes & space tourism) but I wish he had proposed to do something.

    It is up to this community to persuade McCain to walk through the door he has opened. We should not assume that he will just do so without our encouragement.

    A clarification of one part of the statement is needed:

    “He also sponsored legislation to support the up and coming commercial space industry,

    McCain helped shepherd the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act through the U.S. Senate when he was Chairman of the relevant oversight committee. See the complement McCain gets from his House counterpart here:

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=15656

    FWIW,

    - Al

  • yep

    “# 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…”

    Don’t those two points together sound a whole lot like DIRECT-o-clock? Am I reading too much into them?

  • Jeff Foust

    Clint: Obama has said he is opposed to space weaponization, while McCain hasn’t publicly staked out a stance on the issue, to the best of my recollection. (McCain’s proxy at the ISDC debate, Floyd DesChamps, didn’t directly take on the issue, but as I recall stated that McCain wouldn’t press to put weapons in space – but I’m a few thousand kilometers away from my notes on that event at the moment.)

  • spectator

    Wow Jeff. If you think McCain has narrowed the differences of his space policy with Obama, you are really drinking deep from Obama’s soda fountain. Obama has gotten specific once, in suggesting a 5 year hiatus to the manned space program. All else he’s said was in Florida or Texas and that was nothing more than campaign fodder. With McCain I think most people have a sense where he will go based upon prior votes. He won’t delay Constellation; He won’t rely on the Russians for access to space; he’ll generally support Nasa’s current goals and objectives.

    Can anyone at this point have a sense of Obama 2 years into his administration? I don’t think even he does.

  • Mark

    “Why not propose something specific to help the “several companies” that are planning to build spacecraft for space tourism?”

    I don’t think its the government’s job to shell out money to private companies to help develop space tourism. Government space funding should be limited to exploration and scientific research, not creating an amusement park for millionaires.

  • Government space funding should be limited to exploration and scientific research, not creating an amusement park for millionaires.

    It’s not about “creating an amusement park for millionaires.” It’s about reducing cost of access, which would be a huge benefit for national security, space exploration, and the taxpayer.

  • Adrian

    Has either candidate made any mention of the Air Force’s increasing interest in space (not just satellites or weaponization) and space transportation? I am assuming that if McCain gets serious about freezing discretionary spending, and we all know that’s one campaign promise damn-near impossible to keep, the Air Force is going to become a much larger player in the matter.

    as for Obama, it’s sad but true, Space policy just isnt even on his radar. and the man has so much damn potential.

    ill just be happy to see the ISS completed, im too young to know anything else with regards to human spaceflight. to my knowledge both candidates are committed to that goal.

  • Doug Lassiter

    I’ll say that if McCain’s idea is to just give a “thumbs up” to Constellation, and shovel money to an effort that now looks suspiciously flawed both technically and programmatcially, as well as involving what can be considered a clueless lunar exploration plan with no clear value goals that would promote real discovery, then that kind of specificity I can do without. That’s not space development wisdom, but party loyalty. “Yeah, George. Good enough for me! Where’s my shovel?”

    Obama has pledged to revisit the strategic justification for the whole endeavor. He’s the one talking about the worth of the space program in technical competitiveness and spirit of discovery. That revisit might well conclude that the present program is the best that can be managed, but it’s a programmatic reevaluation that desperately needs doing. The sustainability of the whole enterprise depends on such an effort, as the public buy-in appears lacking. Obama at least seems brave enough to say, yeah, we’ll have a close look at this. McCain appears to be in a “good enough for me” mode, and his list of bullet points don’t appear to contain a single original thought.

  • Chuck2200

    Doug Lassiter said: “McCain … his list of bullet points don’t appear to contain a single original thought.”

    Sad but true. Even his speech yesterday on the conflict between Russia and Georgia wasn’t original material. Parts of the speech were directly lifted from a Wikipedia article on Georgia and this was reported last night on political talk shoes on television. See http://blogs.cqpolitics.com/politicalinsider/2008/08/did-mccain-plagarize-his-speec.html

    I had higher hopes for the man but they seem to be fading faster than bluejeans left in the sunlight.

  • Charles in Houston

    As always, interesting commentary.

    Though I would dearly love to see specifics from a candidate at this point, I know that it is good to simply hear them include a topic in a speech or platform. No politician (or administrator, etc) can include specifics in a speech.

    And another interesting point by Chuck2200:

    Doug Lassiter said: “McCain … his list of bullet points don’t appear to contain a single original thought.”

    Sad but true. Even his speech yesterday on the conflict between Russia and Georgia wasn’t original material. Parts of the speech were directly lifted from a Wikipedia article on Georgia

    As several commenters on the original articles (I do recommend it) pointed out, what Wiki article contains ANY original material?? People just race to be the first to type in the material they read in textbooks, etc. Probably all of that material is from an actual source document such as the CIA guide to the country. That is all open material. But the point is that a potential President should be depending on area experts to give relatively broad direction.

  • Chuck2200

    Charles;

    When a public figure gives an original speech, unless specifically stated otherwise, the public is allowed to assume that the material in the speech is original content; either from the public figure or from his or her staff. When material used in the speech comes from an outside source, the speaker is expected to disclose to the listening public that the source or this or that item(s) is . To use material from an outside source and pass it off as original material is plagiarism, pure and simple.

    When Barak Obama did something similar, he was called out on it very publicly, to the extent that it became an issue in the primary. Hillary Clinton promptly accused him of plagiarism. It turns out that he had permission from the author, the Governor of Massachusetts, to use it, so no plagiarism was actually involved.

    This current flap with John McCain is absolutely no different. He used material in a speech that was not his own, nor his staff’s, and did not acknowledge the source. He plagiarized, pure and simple. No different than Barak Obama, only I doubt that John can go back and show he had permission, like Barak did.

    Just for reference, here is the clause from Wikipedia which governs the use of material lifted from its site:

    ” Wikipedia content can be copied, modified, and redistributed so long as the new version grants the same freedoms to others and acknowledges the authors of the Wikipedia article used”.

    John McCain did not acknowledge either Wikipedia or the original authors of the article which was the source of his speech material; he plagiarized material from Wikipedia.

    Back to the original point: ”Doug Lassiter said: “McCain … his list of bullet points don’t appear to contain a single original thought.” All I did was reinforce that thought with a specific example of that very thing.

  • This current flap with John McCain is absolutely no different. He used material in a speech that was not his own, nor his staff’s, and did not acknowledge the source.

    This is silly.

    It is different. In Obama’s case, it was using rhetoric that his friend had found effective on the stump. In the other case, it’s simply a dull backgrounder. As Beutler points out, how many different ways can you (briefly) describe the recent history of Georgia and South Ossetia?

    There’s plenty for which to criticize John McCain, but if that’s the best that people can come up with, he should be a shoo in.

  • [...] Space Politics » McCain’s more detailed space policy [...]

  • Doug Lassiter

    Arguing about the definition of plagiarism is not so much silly, as it is beside the point. The point is that, especially with regard to space, McCain has not emitted any more than a half-hearted bleat of approval for what is already being done. If he is lifting material from other sources because he and his aides can’t come up with intelligent, or at least halfway thoughtful things to say, then that is a real pity, and not the mark of the kind of a leader that space advocates need.

    Obama hasn’t come up with any fantastic ideas about space exploration either, except that he appears to have the courage to be saying, with some justification, that he’s not sure what we’re doing is right. In fact, in his metamorphosis from “use Constellation to pay for education” in December to his groveling at Titusville a few weeks ago, I think he slid right through the most defensible approach.

  • The interesting thing to me is the Earth’s moon appears nowhere in Mr. McCain’s bullet points.

    It seems to me that both candidates are committing to the politically viable minimum (not abandoning the ISS and developing a new government route to get there) and making no promises on anything else. That’s probably wise for both candidates at this point and the most we should expect. It would be nice of somebody campaigned on “storming the Solar System” but it’s not very likely. Nonetheless, I see this as good news. They are addressing the issue, committing to that minimum — and both are a lot more than we would have seen in the past.

    – Donald

  • They are addressing the issue, committing to that minimum — and both are a lot more than we would have seen in the past.

    In other words, they are both committed to having NASA compete with the private sector for LEO. Great.

  • Adrian

    Wouldn’t it be great if the candidates were well-versed and comfortable enough talking about space to have a debate on it? Or if they could readily relate it to energy policy, national defense, and commercial spinoffs? But then, was JFK known to be any of those things? I can’t help but wonder if we as space enthusiasts are trying to hold the wrong people to account for what they do or do not know. Shouldnt we be wondering instead how the Senate candidates stack up in their voting records and policy propasals, since they control the budgets and committees?

  • Rand, you’re looking at the glass half empty. At least NASA is supporting COTS. And, the government abandoning government-supplied access to space is not in the political cards. As long as we continue to be a global power, with global projection of force, that outcome is just about as likely as government abandoning government-supplied oil to the Navy. Yes, much of this is supplied by private companies — but the Navy maintains it’s own fleet of oilers. You may recall a slight spat between Boeing and some upstart in Europe to supply similar services to the Air Force, which service is not likely to be privatized any time soon. However many private suppliers there are, our government is not likely to, nor probably should they, give up “secure” access that they directly control.

    – Donald

  • Chuck2200

    The upcoming Mars Society conference may supply some clarity for us all. Astronaut Walter Cunningham (Apollo-7) will be there speaking on behalf of John McCain and former NASA Associate Administrator Lori Garver (formally of the Clinton campaign) will be there speaking on behalf of Barak Obama.
    http://www.marssociety.org/portal/c/Conventions/2008/space-policy-debate/

    Thursday, August 14th, at 7:30 MDT. This debate should be interesting.

  • spectator

    Why the obsessive questions and doubts with McCain’s positions on Mars, Moon, Constellation, Nasa in general? His record is public and recorded going back decades. At this point he will be engaging in nuance not major policy shifts.

    Obama on the other hand owes all of us much greater engagement on these public policy issues since he has negligible history in almost any topic of the day. To this day he has offered little to the community of space activists.

    By the way about the Wiki debate. McCain used facts that is common knowledge. He didn’t borrow thoughts, metaphors, jokes or anything else someone might copyright. I’m sure if I gave a speech and said there was a near fatal accident during the Apollo 13 mission, someone could find that exact quote somewhere on the web. But who cares? Facts can’t be copyrighted.

  • Chuck2200

    Did you look at the references? There were at least 3 and they were nearly word-for-word lift-outs. I’m sure he didn’t write the speech himself, he used a speechwriter. Well that speechwriter obviously didn’t know the facts so he went to Wiki to get them. Ok, we can all live with that. But he didn’t have enough sense to just take the thoughts and weave them into a coherent speech. It was low quality work. It does not speak well for the quality of the staff, and that’s my point. No one can be a quality President without a high quality staff, neither McCain nor Obama – no one. No President from either party is better than their staff. So far McCain’s staff is making me nervous. They don’t know what they’re doing. Some of these guys will be senior staff at the White House if McCain is elected. Some of these guys will be determining a President McCain’s space policy and they don’t know what they’re doing.

    It’s one thing to locate and use publicly available facts. That takes effort. That’s quality work. It’s quite another to locate publicly available facts and build a speech out of them Lego-block style. That doesn’t take any effort. That’s low quality work. I don’t want that kind of person advising my President on space policy. That’s where I was going with my comment.

  • Rand, you’re looking at the glass half empty. At least NASA is supporting COTS.

    No, I’m looking at the glass with a few drops in the bottom. COTS is a few hundred million, at most. Orion/Ares is billions.

    And the Navy/Air Force comparisons are invalid analogies. Getting people into LEO is not a national security issue, despite Senator Hutchison’s “gap” hysteria.

  • [...] the next-generation of spaceflight” are puzzling, since just recently the campaign issued a more detailed space policy. Among the items the policy said McCain would do as president include ensuring that “space [...]

  • [...] 2008 campaign, which didn’t explicitly call out human exploration of Mars as a top goal in its space policy white paper, focusing instead on continuing Constellation, maximizing utilization of the ISS, and ensuring [...]

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