National Journal reports that Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain blamed Obama on Friday for cuts to the space program and vowed to make the US the “leader of the space program again”. Speaking before more than 1,000 at a campaign stop in Montgomery, Alabama, Cain touched on space policy briefly:
Playing to residents of a state long central to the U.S. space program, Cain praised former President John F. Kennedy for his “inspirational leadership” in advancing space exploration.
By contrast, Cain said that President Obama “has cut our space program to the point that we now have to bum a ride with the Russians in order to get to outer space,” he continued to hoots and applause Friday. “That’s not what the United States wants to happen! We’re used to being a leader in the space program, and … we’re gonna be leader of the space program again!”
The report didn’t indicate if Cain described what he would do differently to restore US leadership in space, although he revisit the issue Saturday when he speaks at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. Earlier this month Cain said in a TV interview that he wants to “relaunch” the US space program, but also did not offer specifics.
What neither Cain nor the National Journal report note, though, is that the current state of having to “bum a ride with the Russians” predates the Obama Administration: even under the Constellation Program, there would have been a gap of at least several years between the shuttle’s retirement and the introduction of Constellation’s Ares 1 rocket and Orion spacecraft.
Cain’s comments may be part of a theme seeking to blame President Obama for effectively terminating US human access to space. In addition to Cain’s stump speech, PolitiFact reported Friday on a “chain email” that claimed that Obama is the “First President to terminate America’s ability to put a man in space”. As PolitiFact notes, “it would be unfair to blame only Obama” since the decision to retire the shuttle predates his administration; moreover, the claim in that chain email ignores the Apollo-Shuttle interregnum in the 1970s. That led PolitiFact to grade them claim, quite bluntly, as “Pants on Fire”.
President Obama and his administration can be praised or blamed for a number of space policy decisions, including the cancellation of Constellation, resetting the long-term goals of human space exploration, and a greater emphasis on commercial entities to provide access to LEO, but forcing the US to fly its astronauts on Russian spacecraft isn’t one of them.
Update 10/30: Cain did discuss space policy during his stop Saturday in Huntsville, but largely repeated the points he made Friday, according to a Huntsville Times report. “I was disappointed when President Obama decided to cut a significant part of the space program,” Cain said, apparently referring to the administration’s decision to cancel Constellation. “The space program inspires other technological advances to business and the economy. In the Cain presidency, it will be reversed back to where it should be.” He did not indicate how he would accomplish that.