Monday, November 10, 2008

Space Advocacy in the Age of Obama

The National Space Society Board of Directors met here in Huntsville this past weekend, and it was quite illuminating, as always. NSS is not, of course, uniform in its demographic or ideological makeup. That's why we have committees and votes and officers--to keep things reasonably orderly. We are a consensus organization, more or less, and unlike some organizations, bipartisan in makeup. This makes life more interesting for the Policy Committee and other groups, as we have to craft documents that will reach the bulk of the American public.

Anyhow, because of this diversity of opinion, we are faced with many different perspectives on, and reactions to, the election of Barack Obama. There is obviously a great deal of uncertainty. This is common with any new presidential administration, I think. There's a a difference between electioneering and governing. Will Obama deliver on the lofty things he said regarding our nation's space program? Will he be able to?

Regardless of the speculation, space advocates must go forward accepting that Obama and his party's ideology will soon have firm control of the government. My positions were:

  1. Space is not a priority for Obama (nor was it a priority for McCain, if it came to it).
  2. The economy, foreign affairs, and education will be his priorities.
  3. Space advocates need to tie the value of space exploration to the things that DO matter to the incoming administration.

This is probably rather pragmatic of me, but the alternatives are uglier. My libertarian friends, who advocate that space exploration be placed completely in the hands of the private sector, overlook the political popularity of NASA. The odds of having NASA disbanded? Zero. The odds of the private sector (SpaceX, etc.) getting additional support for their efforts in space? Better than even (IMHO). The odds of getting Constellation replaced by some other architecture? Slim.

So that's the political reality. That still doesn't prevent NSS from "going bold." One might hope or push for a Kennedyesque call for a return to the Moon or a human mission for Mars. Advocates can lobby for Obama to call for American greatness, technological leadership, energy independence, quality education, and peaceful international leadership, using space exploration as a vehicle. I've suggested as much in my blog on mass marketing. Could it happen? Maybe.

We also have a "friend at court" of sorts--Lori Garver, a former NSS Executive Director and NASA Associate Administrator, is Obama's space policy advisor. She speaks the advocates' language, and she had a hand in crafting Obama's most recent space policy. So: there's hope that Obama's policies can be made more pro-space.

This conversation is probably moot until Obama is sworn in, so I'll drop it for now, but "always in motion is the future," as Yoda might put it.

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