Yesterday ScienceDebate 2012 released answers to a series of questions on science topics provided by the Obama and Romney campaigns. (Interest was high enough that the web site was largely inaccessible for most of the day; while it appears to be up and running now, a copy of the questions and answers is on Scientific American’s site.) One of the 14 questions dealt with space: “The United States is currently in a major discussion over our national goals in space. What should America’s space exploration and utilization goals be in the 21st century and what steps should the government take to help achieve them?”
The answer from the Romney campaign is worth reading since it offers a little bit more perspective on the campaign’s views on space and what a Romney Administration might do. The campaign starts with his view of the purpose of the space program:
The mission of the U.S. space program is to spur innovation through exploration of the heavens, inspire future generations, and protect our citizens and allies.
That’s followed by several bullet points on the role of space in technological innovation, the economy, national security, and foreign relations. The Romney statement then goes on to suggest that America’s space capabilities are deteriorating, in part because of a lack of perceived direction for the space program:
America has enjoyed a half-century of leadership in space, but now that leadership is eroding despite the hard work of American industry and government personnel. The current purpose and goals of the American space program are difficult to determine. With clear, decisive, and steadfast leadership, space can once again be an engine of technology and commerce. It can help to strengthen America’s entrepreneurial spirit and commercial competitiveness, launch new industries and new technologies, protect our security interests, and increase our knowledge.
The statement then reiterates statements Romney made back in January, where he said he would being in experts from a variety of disciplines to develop new goals and missions for NASA:
Rebuilding NASA, restoring U.S. leadership, and creating new opportunities for space commerce will be hard work, but I will strive to rebuild an institution worthy of our aspirations and capable once again leading the world toward new frontiers. I will bring together all the stakeholders – from NASA and other civil agencies, from the full range of national security institutions, from our leading universities, and from commercial enterprises – to set goals, identify missions, and define the pathway forward.
Then the campaign springs the bad news on space advocates looking to increase NASA’s budget:
Focusing NASA. A strong and successful NASA does not require more funding, it needs clearer priorities. I will ensure that NASA has practical and sustainable missions. There will be a balance of pragmatic and top-priority science with inspirational and groundbreaking exploration programs.
The statement then goes on to support international partnerships, stating that a Romney Administration “will invite friends and allies to cooperate with America in achieving mutually beneficial goals.” The campaign also has some strong words about national security space policy:
I am committed to a robust national security space program and I will direct the development of capabilities that defend and increase the resilience of space assets. I will also direct the development of capabilities that will deter adversaries seeking to damage or destroy the space capabilities of the U.S. and its allies.
The statement doesn’t go into additional details about what those capabilities to both defend US space assets and deter attacks might be. The National Security Space Strategy released by the Pentagon in January 2011 also includes language on these topics. “We seek to enhance our national capability to dissuade and deter the development, testing, and employment of counterspace systems and prevent and deter aggression against space systems and supporting infrastructure that support U.S. national security,” that document states, adding that such efforts include “strengthening the resilience of our architectures.”
Finally, and very briefly, the Romney statement addresses commercial space:
Revitalizing Industry. A strong aerospace industry must be able to compete for and win business in foreign markets. I will work to ease trade limitations, as appropriate, on foreign sales of U.S. space goods and will work to expand access to new markets.
It’s not clear what “trade limitations” the campaign is referring to, although it could be an oblique reference to export controls, which are a self-imposed form of trade limitations that makes it more difficult for US companies to export satellites and related components.
The key takeaway from the answer is that a Romney Administration would seek to refocus NASA in as-yet-unspecified ways (pending, perhaps, the recommendations of that collection of stakeholders mentioned both in the statement and in previous comments by Romney), but would not necessarily seek to increase NASA’s budget to carry out those revised priorities.