This week’s issue of Space News features a pair of commentaries from the campaigns of the two major presidential candidates, largely reiterating points previously made during the campaign. Representing the Obama campaign, former science and technology advisor Jim Kohlenberger first lays out the various accomplishments of the Obama Administration during its first term. (That includes trumpeting the successful landing of the Mars rover Curiosity, a program that predates the administration, without mentioning the proposed planetary science budget cuts that have put the future of NASA’s Mars exploration program into disarray.) “The president’s plan, passed with bipartisan support in Congress, builds on America’s unrivaled space leadership to take us farther, faster and deeper into space than humans have ever gone before,” he states.
Kohlenberger then criticizes the rhetoric and plans (or, he argues, lack thereof) from the Romney campaign. “Romney’s central point seems to be an echo of the erroneous claim that NASA and America’s space program are adrift with no clear strategy or goals,” he writes. The Romney campaign’s “rather petite space plan”, he notes, claims the US doesn’t have any plans for putting astronauts into orbit “but then goes on to embrace the president’s own plans for partnering with U.S. industry to do just that,” a reference to the language in support of commercialization in the Romney space white paper.
Not so fast, counter Scott Pace and Eric Anderson in their own op-ed. The two, members of Romney’s space policy advisory group, repeat many of the points made in last month’s white paper. “President Barack Obama has put us on a path that cedes our global position as the unequivocal leader in space,” they claim. After reviewing the key points of the Romney white paper, they conclude, “Mitt Romney will ensure that we have a space program worthy of a great nation.”
One change in the op-ed versus the white paper is the latter’s claim, highlighted by Kohlenberger, that “For the first time since the dawn of the Space Age, the United States has no clear plan for putting its own astronauts into space.” Instead, Pace and Anderson write, “For the first time since the dawn of the Space Age, America has chosen to forgo its own capabilities for putting astronauts into space and instead relies on the Russians.” They argue that while shuttle’s impending retirement was known when Obama took office, “the earliest that Americans will again ride American rockets into space is 2016 — a stretch longer than the one between President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech and the first steps on the Moon.”
If, in fact, commercial providers start crewed launches in 2016 (which may be a stretch goal, as NASA is planning on having such vehicles available in 2017), the time between Obama’s 2009 inauguration and that first flight would be less than eight years, compared to slightly more than eight years between JFK’s May 1961 speech Apollo 11’s July 1969 landing. However, the actual gap in US human spaceflight access, measured from the final shuttle mission in July 2011, would be on the order of five years, less than the gap between Apollo-Soyuz and STS-1.