New Space Policy Questions and Advice for Mitt

Interestingly, space policy has been much more discussed in this primary campaign than any other in recent history, largely because it is a topic about which one of the candidates, Newt Gingrich, is unusually enthusiastic and conversant. With the focus on Tuesday’s primary in Florida, a swing state in which space is an important issue to many on the Space Coast, it seems to have reached a peak in the last few days, though after Tuesday’s vote it is likely to recede into the background, with few remaining debates ahead, and none focusing on a space state.

On Wednesday, Gingrich gave an aspirational speech in Cocoa Beach laying out his vision for America in space, of a ten-billion-dollar prize for the first human on Mars, a lunar base by the end of his second term, and eventually a settlement of several thousand that might become a new U. S. state. As I noted here on Friday, this isn’t as crazy as it sounds to many, and Ken Chang at the New York Times wrote a similar story with the theme on Saturday that the primary barrier was politics, not technology or cost.

Nonetheless, Mitt Romney chose to ridicule it, continuing to come off (as he did in December) as a soulless, visionless technocrat. The last time he did this, I had some serious space policy questions for his campaign, to which he has (unsurprisingly) never responded:

In 2008, you said that you supported President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration, a fundamental part of which was a manned lunar base. Now you criticize Newt Gingrich for the same thing, and imply that it is a frivolity. What happened in the interim to make you change your opinion?

…What would a Romney space policy look like? Given that you’ve elevated the topic in the campaign, I think that those of us to whom space is important deserve to know.

Well, in the debate on Thursday night, he continued to mock Gingrich’s expansive vision, demonstrating his penchant for “liking to be able to fire people”:

If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I’d say, “You’re fired.”

But he also started to answer the last question, saying that he didn’t yet have a space policy, but that he was going to get one:

To define the mission for our space program, I’d like to bring in the — the top professors that relate to space areas and physics, the top people from industry.

Got that? Top. Men.

Well, true to his word, on Friday, prior to giving a bland and vague space policy speech at a Space Coast company, Governor Romney revealed a letter of endorsement from several notable space experts. The policy proposed is (like his speech) vague and anodyne, and one which, it could be argued, the current one under Obama satisfies. The group is led by Scott Pace, head of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University (and long-time friend and colleague of mine at Rockwell International back in the eighties). Others on the list are Mark Albrecht, head of the National Space Council under George Herbert Walker Bush; Mike Griffin, previous NASA administrator; Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon (almost forty years ago); and others. Interestingly, Dr. Pace is described as a “former Assistant Director for Space and Aeronautics, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.” For some reason, no mention is made of the fact that his most recent prior job was associate NASA administrator under Griffin. Several of the group, including Griffin and Pace, but particularly Cernan, have been quite vociferous in their opposition to the Obama space plan. Despite Romney’s claim to desire a greater integration of commercial companies into space endeavors, only one of his advisers (Eric Anderson of Space Adventures, and chairman of the board of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation) has any commercial space experience.

So, in light of this new information, and in the interest of continuing to improve him as a candidate should he get the nomination, I think it’s time for a new round of questions that reporters should be asking Governor Romney.

As noted above, four years ago you claimed to support the Bush space plan, which included a lunar base by 2020. Why is that now not an appropriate goal?