Campaign '08

Sally Ride endorses Obama

Former astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, made clear her support for Barack Obama in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed Wednesday. Part of her reason for supporting the Democratic candidate is his stance on space:

Obama also has impressed me with his grasp of the challenges our space program faces and his agenda for where we go from here. Obama clearly understands the importance of human spaceflight and exploration. That is why he supports increasing NASA’s budget to close the gap in American spaceflight capability.

However, he also sees the potential for NASA to expand its research capabilities to study things like global warming and aeronautics. And most important to me, he has included plans to integrate our space program into educational curricula around the country so students can experience the thrill of science through remotely controlling cameras on the international space station or, perhaps one day, rovers on the moon.

Related: this week’s print issue of Aviation Week claims that Ride’s name “has come up on both candidates’ lists” of potential replacements for NASA administrator Mike Griffin. (Essays like this, though, would presumably not help her chances in a McCain administration.) However, the same report also claimed that Chirinjeev Kathuria—one of the backers of MirCorp and current chairman of PlanetSpace, a small company partnering with ATK, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin to win a commercial ISS resupply contract—is also on Obama’s shortlist to replace Griffin. (Kathuria, as readers may recall, ran for the Senate from Illinois in 2004 but lost the Republican primary; that was the seat won in the general election by none other than Barack Obama. Kathuria also made a failed bid for lieutenant governor of Illinois in 2006, also as a Republican.)

30 comments to Sally Ride endorses Obama

  • MarkWhittington

    Of course Sally Ride also supported Walter Mondale in 1984. This is not a surprise, as she is a hyper partisan Democrat.

  • Chance

    What exactly, pray tell, does it mean to be “hyper” partisan?

  • anonymous.space

    “she is a hyper partisan Democrat”

    Since when does endorsing two Presidential candidates from the same party over the course of 20+ years qualify one as “hyper partisan [sic]“?

    It’s “hyper partisan [sic]” to attack a leading ex-astronaut with unfounded, overblown, and derogatory adjectives when all they’ve done is endorse a couple candidates from the opposing political party.

    Pot, kettle, and all that… sheesh…

  • There were rumors in 1993 that the Clinton administration wanted to replace Goldin with her, but that she didn’t want the job. If so, I wonder if that’s changed?

  • I should add that our limited experience of astronauts as administrators (Truly) doesn’t bode well.

  • Al Fansome

    Rand,

    I think the issue of whether Sally Ride becomes Administrator is the real issue.

    Just because you are an astronaut, does not mean you know how to manage programs, or people.

    More importantly, Obama’s space policy creates the possibility that NASA could do some good things in the next four years on commercial space. Sally Ride as Administrator would destroy those possibilities. I don’t know if you she knows what the words “commercial space” even mean.

    - Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rockets scientists do not understand politics.”

  • Alan

    Al -

    On what do you base your claim that Sally “would destroy” commercial possibilities? Has she made public pronouncements or written op eds slandering the commercial sector? There is no such evidence.

    Since you admit that you have no idea if “she knows what the words ‘commercial space’ even mean,” then perhaps you should refrain from criticizing her until you know what you obviously don’t know.

    Alan

  • Kevin Robles

    “Since when does endorsing two Presidential candidates from the same party over the course of 20+ years qualify one as “hyper partisan [sic]“?”

    Whittington hates Democrats. That’s all you need to know. Don’t take him seriously, nobody else does.

  • Vladislaw

    ” I don’t know if she knows what the words “commerical space” even mean”

    Well I thought I was going to play devil’s advocate on that one because when someone leaves NASA they generally are a tad more open to private commercial space travel, or at least a conversation about it. I can not even PRETEND to be a devil’s advocate for her. I could not find in anything either said around her, to her, by her with the word commercial or tourism. So I am forced to agree with you, I do not believe she does know what the concept means. It was actually pretty amazing in that even in every question and answer session i could find on her, no questioner even posed the question. It almost seemed like they were vetted first to see if that question would be asked.

    I HOPE I just missed some speech she made and she is not that hard core.

  • There is zero reason to believe, based on her history, that Sally Ride has any interest in commercial space. That doesn’t meant that she doesn’t, but there’s no evidence that she does.

  • chance

    Any comments on Chirinjeev Kathuria as administrator? He seems fairly moderate judging by his campaign website, so might be a good choice if Obama wants to bring in a Republican for the bipartisan cred. It would seemingly also be a strong signal that commercial space would get higher status in NASA.

    So, my question is, was his name thrown out there as idle speculation, or is he a serious contender for the post?

  • Eric Sterner

    FWIW, it usually pays to follow the old rule of thumb: those who know aren’t talking, and those who are talking don’t know. I’d be surprised if anyone with any influential position in either campaign is thinking seriously about who their NASA administrator might be. That doesn’t mean folks don’t have campaigns under way to influence the choices of the next President, but that’s a might different than actually having a President and his personnel folks consider you.

  • Al Fansome

    SIMBERG: There is zero reason to believe, based on her history, that Sally Ride has any interest in commercial space. That doesn’t meant that she doesn’t, but there’s no evidence that she does.

    Rand,

    I agree. Morevoer, if Sally Ride had an interest in commercial space, somebody in this community would probably know it, and have shared the nature of her interest.

    She is OLD NASA, and has been around for decades. Unless she has given any reason to think she is a change agent, then I have to think she is NOT a change agent.

    Obama has made it pretty clear that he has not been inspired by NASA since Apollo. Well “NASA since Apollo” is Sally Ride’s NASA.

    If Sally Ride is a change agent, the easiest way to prove it is for her to say what she would change. What is her plan?

    What would she change to make NASA more inspiring?

    At least Mike Griffin had a plan. We all knew something about what he intended, because he published a plan as a Planetary Society report.

    Alan, if you think Sally Ride would be a good Administrator, well then make a substantive case for her. Why should she be NASA Administrator?

    Just because she was the first American female astronaut, and became famous because of it, does not mean she is qualified to be Administrator. Fame is not a qualification. If that was the criteria, then we should make Tom Hanks into NASA Administrator. Or Paris Hilton.

    Make the case. What would she do?

    - Al

  • Alan

    Al -

    My comment merely addressed your assumption that Dr. Ride “would destroy” commercial space. I do not believe you have any basis to make such a cliam.

    Alan

  • Jim Muncy

    Alan -

    If you’re the Alan I think you are, you have more standing on Ms. Ride’s views than the rest of us put together. Furthermore, since she listens to you, I’d say she is definitely influenceable.

    – Jim

  • Charles in Houston

    Our limited experience of astronauts as administrators has been uninspiring (as Rand points out) and you would hope that either Administration would look for a financial planner more than a space geek. In the next few years (regardless of who is elected to any office) we are gonna have to re-tool the whole plan and fit it inside of a small funding box.

    The “Sand Chart” funding is not gonna appear and we don’t want to continue marching down a path that is predicated on lots of new money magically coming available.

    And from what I have heard from Sally Ride – she seems to feel that people that are in business to make money are somehow corrupt and we should go into government service. She has not made any public committments to either commercial or non-commercial space that I know of, she jets around the country giving inspirational speeches.

  • Al Fansome

    ALAN: My comment merely addressed your assumption that Dr. Ride “would destroy” commercial space. I do not believe you have any basis to make such a cliam.

    Alan,

    Your point is valid and accurate. Let me correct my statement. I do not KNOW that Sally Ride WILL destroy the commercial space efforts going on at NASA.

    I am asserting that she MIGHT, and that she is UNLIKELY to support the issues, and that we have no evidence to the contrary.

    I am observing that even though she has had 20+ years to indicate some interest (and support) for commercial space, which is a critical piece of our national space strategy, we have no evidence she cares.

    The observed “lack of evidence” is not in a vacuum. As a community we know of well over a dozen astronauts who have clearly indicated strong support for commercial space. They have at least thought about the issue — and we could count on them to support commercial space if any of them became Administrator.

    Based on this “lack of evidence”, I “believe” that Sally Ride is unlikely to support needed progress in this area. Senior executives generally don’t advance areas that they have no passion for.

    - Al

  • Chuck2200

    I don’t think she would make a good administrator.
    1. She is an astronaut, period – NASA does much more than space.
    2. NASA needs someone with the demonstrated ability to put good people around them, question them, listen to what they have to say and then act based on what they say. From what I know of her (I could be wrong) that does not describe Sally Ride.

    I don’t want to see another “the world’s greatest engineer, saviour of NASA” at the helm. I want someone who is confident in themself but knows their limitations, unlike the current “boss”. I want someone who has successfully managed some large agency or company with the demonstrated ability -AND TALENT-

  • Chuck2200

    demonstrated ability -AND TALENT- to lead by example and the ability to inspire people. I don’t want someone who refuses to face facts but insists that the facts be twisted to fit their vision. We’ve had quite enough of that thank you very much.

    I don’t think Sally Ride fits the bill.

    (Accidently hit “Submit” in the middle. Sorry)

  • Doug Lassiter

    She is an astronaut, period

    Without wanting to weigh in pro or con on Sally Ride for Administrator I cannot imagine how you can make that statement. Ride is a physicist — now a professor at UCSD, and has done some nice research on both laser physics, and I believe high energy astrophysics. She has been one of the most energetic people in educational outreach for space as well. She is Director of CalSpace, served on several influential policy panels and … well, go look it up!

    That’s a big “period”, I guess.

  • Ride is a physicist — now a professor at UCSD, and has done some nice research on both laser physics, and I believe high energy astrophysics. She has been one of the most energetic people in educational outreach for space as well. She is Director of CalSpace, served on several influential policy panels and … well, go look it up!

    None of that is necessarily a good resume to be NASA administrator. Though I agree with the point that she isn’t just an astronaut.

  • Doug Lassiter

    As I said, I was not making any point about whether her experience necessarily makes a good resume to be a NASA administrator. But none of that experience isn’t necessarily in a good resume to be a NASA administrator. We haven’t had a really satisfying NASA administrator in an long time. We’ve had passionate engineers, management gurus, industry bigwigs as well as flyboys, and they have all had some serious deficiencies. At this point, I’m willing to look outside the box a bit for someone who can make a difference.

    NASA needs someone with the demonstrated ability to put good people around them, question them, listen to what they have to say and then act based on what they say.

    Yeah, I’ll buy that. But c’mon, that sure isn’t a fine sieve, and hardly a lesson from all those deficiencies we endured. Oh, you want someone who managed a large agency or company with demonstrated talent and ability? Where are Sean (OMB … OK, he was only a DD) and Dan (Aerojet … OK, he was only a senior VP) when ya need them, eh?

    I’d be interested to understand in what way Sally Ride doesn’t “fit the bill” because she “refuses to face facts but insists that the facts be twisted to fit their vision”. Care to share? That’s a story I haven’t heard.

  • [...] industry leaders back Barack The list of Obama space supporters is growing! On the heels of Sally Ride and Rusty Schweickart’s endorsements of Senator Obama, science advocates like Bill Nye (the [...]

  • [...] as well as former shuttle astronauts Kathy Thornton and Dan Barry. That’s in addition to the Sally Ride endorsement of Obama earlier this week. In addition to the endorsements, Schweickart plans to do some door-to-door [...]

  • anonymous.space

    IIRC, Ride was President of Space.com during its start-up phase, so she may have more of an understanding of the challenges and potential of small businesses than her lack of comment (pro or con) on the emergent space flight industry would indicate. And while I also have great reservations about astronauts catapulted into management positions at NASA, Ride does have a demonstrated an ability to think critically and strategically about large organizations like NASA from her authorship of NASA’s first strategic plan, “Leadership and America’s Future in Space” (the so-called “Ride Report”). She also led the CAIB’s Subcommittee on Operations, so she is apparently still effective when diving down into the technical details.

    I’d have more reservations about Kathuria. Like Ride, Kathuria has experience heading up an internet startup, but Planetspace’s record in executing commercial space hardware development leaves much to be desired. And unlike Ride, I don’t know of any examples where Kathuria has demonstrated an ability to think critically/strategically about a large, technical organization like NASA. And technically, I’d argue that Ride’s physics background is more relevant to NASA than Kathuria’s medical background.

    Of course, when other factors like political acumen/connections, developmental/operational accomplishments, and demonstrated leadership qualities are added to the mix, there’s arguably better candidates, both within and outside NASA ranks, than either Ride or Kathuria.

    Of course, all this assumes that the next White House can find anyone with some decent credentials that is actually interested in the job. I think they will have a very tough time doing so given the agency’s current woes.

    My 2 cents… FWIW…

  • Of course, all this assumes that the next White House can find anyone with some decent credentials that is actually interested in the job. I think they will have a very tough time doing so given the agency’s current woes.

    That’s always the problem for a new administration.

  • Al Fansome

    ANONYMOUS: IIRC, Ride was President of Space.com during its start-up phase, so she may have more of an understanding of the challenges and potential of small businesses than her lack of comment (pro or con) on the emergent space flight industry would indicate.

    Anonymous,

    Thank you for pointing that out. Maybe somebody could expand on this point — what was here specific role as “President”?; how long did she serve?; what issues was she confronted with?; and what decisions did she have to make?

    Not knowing any of this … I can draw some generalities:

    1) Space.com had a “market” problem, in that they did not understand the “market” or “lack thereof”, and their original business plan failed. They quickly adapted, and bought out Space News, to save Lou Dobbs reputation (there were no bankruptcy/failure stories in the news.)

    2) Space.com did not have an “investment” problem. Lou Dobbs credibility brought in lots of private financing relatively quickly and easily compared to that which most space startup ventures experience.

    So, she probably learned something about “market risk” for a media company. This suggests that she might intuitively understand if a company executive were to say “we need customers”.

    Whether she would take any action to make NASA into a better customer, by purchasing more of its goods and services in a “commercial manner”, is different question.

    FWIW,

    - Al

  • GB

    Minor point perhaps, but I note in her very late endorsement of Obama she is already locking the incoming administration into an increase in the NASA budget. Obama could not be clearer that what was required was government more efficient, not larger or smaller. I would shy away from such knee-jerk old way of thinking. We need an administrator who “gets it.” Maybe NASA requires more funding, I don’t think it has made the case yet to the incoming administration.

  • Me

    Just because Sally Ride is a girl doesn’t mean she cant have power. Sure we each have our own ideas but we really should give her a chance before hating her.

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