Late Friday night the Obama campaign announced it had selected Joe Biden, a senator from Delaware and former presidential candidate himself, as Obama’s running mate. Naturally, the first question that comes to everyone’s minds is, “what does he think about space policy?” Well, maybe not, but if you’re still reading this, you’re curious.
However, not surprisingly, there’s not much to say about Biden and space policy. The Biden campaign was one of the campaigns I contacted for an article in The Space Review about candidates’s positions on space, but, like the others, didn’t get a response from. The journal Nature had a little more success in early January, reporting that he “wants to make China a full partner in space rather than a ‘frustrated new entrant’ that has to catch up with the United States.” And at a New Hampshire debate last fall, he told an attendee, “I like the robotic programs” and, about human spaceflight, “with clear leadership we could do anything, good luck.”
In the Senate he doesn’t serve on the Commerce or Appropriations committees, so he’s not on the front lines of either authorization or appropriations legislation that would affect NASA. However, he does chair the Foreign Relations Committee, which has a tangential but key role now: In June he and the ranking Republican on the committee, Richard Lugar, introduced S.3103, the “International Space Station Payments Act of 2008″. This bill would have extended the current waiver in the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act that allows NASA to purchase flight services from Russia. That waiver currently expires at the end of 2011, and NASA officials have said that they need the extension this year since it takes up to three years to build a Soyuz spacecraft (the extension does not include Progress spacecraft, since NASA is planning on commercial and/or international alternatives to Progress). However, enthusiasm for the waiver has dropped significantly in the wake of Russia’s incursion into Georgia this month, raising doubts it will be passed.
One other thing to keep in mind. Earlier this month Obama advocated re-establishing the National Space Council (also known as the National Aeronautics and Space Council), which traditionally has been chaired by the vice president. That means that, if Obama is elected in November and he carries through with his plans to recreate the council, Biden could be playing a much larger role in space policy in the next four years.