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The GOP’s Non-Existent Space Policy

When innocuous platitudes substitute for serious proposals to reform NASA and jump start private space ventures.

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

August 31, 2012 - 12:00 am
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In light of the recent loss of our nation’s greatest space hero, I decided to take a gander at the Republican Party platform to see what they had to say about space and NASA. Here it is:

America’s Future in Space: Continuing this Quest

The exploration of space has been a key part of U.S. global leadership and has supported innovation and ownership of technology. Over the last half century, in partnership with our aerospace industry, the work of NASA has helped define and strengthen our nation’s technological prowess. From building the world’s most powerful rockets to landing men on the Moon, sending robotic spacecraft throughout our solar system and beyond, building the International Space Station, and launching space-based telescopes that allow scientists to better understand our universe, NASA science and engineering have produced spectacular results. The technologies that emerged from those programs propelled our aerospace industrial base and directly benefit our national security, safety, economy, and quality of life. Through its achievements, NASA has inspired generations of Americans to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, leading to careers that drive our country’s technological and economic engines.

Today, America’s leadership in space is challenged by countries eager to emulate — and surpass — NASA’s accomplishments. To preserve our national security interests and foster innovation and competitiveness, we must sustain our preeminence in space, launching more science missions, guaranteeing unfettered access, and maintaining a source of high-value American jobs.

So there’s the preamble. Next come the specific policy proposals, right?

Well, one would think so, but one would think so in vain. That’s it. That’s the sum total of what the GOP platform says about space.

This was clearly written by someone who has given very little thought to space policy, probably some staffer who was told “Hey, we need to say something about space. We know that Mitt doesn’t give a rat’s patoot about it, but we have to say something.”

So he (or she) did a little research and came up with this “motherhood” statement (as in space is good, motherhood is wonderful). Note all the conventional and unexamined assumptions:

Space is about exploration. Check.
Space is about science. Check.
NASA is our space “program.” Check.
NASA spending advances our industrial base. Check.
NASA promotes STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). Check.
Our preeminence in space is key to our national security interests. Check.

What isn’t mentioned? Well, for one thing, the platform is bereft of the slightest mention of military space, when it (not NASA) is in fact key to our national security, given what a force multiplier things like GPS, communications satellites, surveillance systems, etc. can be. Similarly, there is no mention whatsoever of all of the private space activity, some of which is being spurred by the (uncharacteristic) policy of the current administration to competitively procure services from that sector. Will a Romney administration and Republican Congress continue this? One would never guess it from the platform wording.

There is no discussion, or even consideration, of space as a new venue for human activity, whether economic (e.g., mining) or actual settlement, despite the fact that a number of companies have been formed recently for the former, and part of their business plans are to enable the latter.

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