Monday, August 18, 2008

More from Obama on Space
First, we have the latest statement from the Obama campaign:
Then we have this debate between Lori Garver (who has switched from being the Clinton space advisor to the Obama campaign's advisor) and Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham, representing McCain at the Mars Society Convention this week.

Busy, busy, busy! I'll take on the Obama statement today, the debate tomorrow or Wednesday. Again, like the
statement that appeared on Keith Cowing's in January, this statement is not on the main site. And, again, I am forced to ask why? The campaign could add this to the technology issue statement, or add another issue on the Issues list, but they didn't. Is it because Obama doesn't want to be nailed down on space policy? Is it because he might have a change of policy once he gets into office, and doesn't want anyone to know his true intentions? He's got plausible deniability: "Oh, well that was on SpaceRef and on a blog posting by one of my fans; those weren't my campaign's official positions."

Anyhow, making an effort not to be too snarky, here are my reactions to the various pieces to this latest statement:

My vision will build on the great goals set forth in recent years, to maintain a robust program of human space exploration and ensure the fulfillment of NASA's mission.

Note that the “great goals set forth in recent years” came from the Bush Administration, the same administration he’ll spend the next few pages bashing.

Together, we can ensure that NASA again reflects all that is best about our country and continue our nation's preeminence in space.

What’s this business about NASA “again” reflecting all that is best about our country? NASA’s never really lost its credibility with the public, despite the criticism it has taken (part of which I’ve given) on its behavior, which led to two Space Shuttles being lost.

Barack Obama believes the United States should maintain its international leadership in space while at the same time inspiring a new generation of Americans to dream beyond the horizon.

Well, great. However, like my gripes about McCain’s last statement, this is more boilerplate and eyewash.

Barack Obama believes that what President Kennedy said about space more than 45 years ago remains valid today: "The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space. . . . We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained . . . and used for the progress of all people."

I find it amusing that Obama is quoting the man who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” and “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Most of his policies don’t aspire to either position.

[T]he Bush administration set an ambitious agenda for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), but has since failed to provide adequate funding or leadership to move forward with that agenda. As a result, key programs have suffered. Poor planning and inadequate funding are leading to at least a five-year gap after the retirement of the Space Shuttle. During those years, the United States will have to depend on foreign rockets and spacecraft to send Americans to orbit. NASA has had to slash its research budget

He pounds the Bush Administration pretty hard here, but I can’t find much to argue with when it’s the truth.

As president, Barack Obama will establish a robust and balanced civilian space program.

This is a standard Senator’s comment—when they say “balanced,” they mean, “a program that doesn’t take money out of my state unless everybody’s state is hurt in the same way.”


HIS NASA??? Who does this guy think he is? Louis XIV? Better check his stance on defense. If he starts saying “His Army,” watch for Praetorians in the Capitol.

His NASA not only will inspire the world with both human and robotic space exploration, but also will again lead in confronting the challenges we face here on Earth, including global climate change, energy independence, and aeronautics research.

Does this include investments in
Space Solar Power?

Obama will reach out to include international partners

Okay, which ones?

There is currently no organizational authority in the Federal government with a sufficiently broad mandate to oversee a comprehensive and integrated strategy and policy dealing with all aspects of the government's space- related programs, including those being managed by NASA, the Department of Defense, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Commerce Department, the Transportation Department, and other federal agencies. This wasn't always the case. Between 1958 and 1973, the National Aeronautics and Space Council oversaw the entire space arena for four presidents;

Okay, fine. For what purpose? This could be akin to reviving the
Office of Technology Assessment. I have no objection with reviving NASC or OTA; I just want to know who’s going to be on these boards, what they will do, and what power(s) they will have.

the Council was briefly revived from 1989 to 1992.

Note that this happened during the Bush Sr. presidency…

Barack Obama will re-establish this Council reporting to the president. It will oversee and coordinate civilian, military, commercial and national security space activities. It will solicit public participation, engage the international community, and work toward a 21st century vision of space that constantly pushes the envelope on new technologies as it pursues a balanced national portfolio that expands our reach into the heavens and improves life here on Earth.

Ah, some answers to my previous questions. Note the “balanced portfolio” comment again. Does this mean NASC would be responsible for maintaining the “balance” of the NASA budget? If so, Congress already does that.

Barack Obama is committed to making the necessary investments to ensure we close this gap as much as is technically feasible and to minimize reliance on foreign space capabilities. He also will work with the space industry to ensure retention of workforce and technical capabilities during the transition from the shuttle to its successor.
Retaining Options for Additional Shuttle Flights: Barack Obama supports Congressional efforts to add at least one additional Space Shuttle flight to fly a valuable mission and to keep the workforce engaged. He will work to ensure there is adequate funding to support that additional flight so that it does not interfere with developing the Shuttle's successor.

I asked this same question of McCain’s last statement: how does he intend to keep the workforce employed? Socialism? Make NASA a blatant jobs program? I also have
questioned the wisdom of keeping the Shuttle flying longer. One argument I forgot on Friday: many of the companies providing parts for the Shuttle have gone out of business. How much money will it cost to reinvent parts to keep Shuttle flying?

Speeding the Next-Generation Vehicle: Obama will expedite the development of the Shuttle's successor systems for carrying Americans to space so we can minimize the gap. This will be difficult; underfunding by the Bush administration has left NASA with limited flexibility to accelerate the development of the new systems.

He’s right: it will be difficult to minimize the gap, but not only because of underfunding by the Bush Administration. As I noted on Friday, if we have to keep using the VAB, launch pads, etc., to support Shuttle, that slows down the renovation and refurbishment of launch facilities that must occur before we can launch Ares I and Ares V. And by the way: what does “limited flexibility” mean? Let’s say NASA got enough money both to fly Shuttle longer and to accelerate Orion and Ares (some things can’t be accelerated, like J-2X development, but let’s just go with the argument for now). You’d still end up with Ares and Orion having to wait for the launch facilities to be updated before they could fly. If we fly Shuttle longer, the “gap” in human spaceflight will shift, not shrink because we’ll still need to rebuild our infrastructure to support the new launch vehicles.

Using the Private Sector: Obama will stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate spaceflight capabilities. NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services is a good model of government/industry collaboration.

Good. However, how about upping the funding for
COTS Option D, which would fund commercial launches of crews to ISS?

Working with International Allies: Obama will enlist international partners to provide International Space Station (ISS) cargo re-supply and eventually alternate means for sending crews to the ISS.

Great. As I asked above, which ones?

Completing and Enhancing the International Space Station
The International Space Station is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished through international cooperation. Though we have spent billions to build the station, the microgravity research it was intended to facilitate has fallen victim to funding cuts. Barack Obama would ensure that NASA and other federal agencies are fully utilizing the ISS to conduct research that can help address global challenges such as public health and energy independence and can develop technologies that can provide economic benefits to Earth. Obama also will enable research on the ISS to support long-term human exploration and planetary research needs.
Partnering to Enhance the Potential of the ISS: Barack Obama will enlist other Federal agencies, industry and academia to develop innovative scientific and technological research projects on the ISS.

Great, but we need to ensure that we can get up there and have access to ISS before we start doing things up there. What would Obama propose if Russia refused to launch Americans on Soyuz after we retire Shuttle?

Enabling Human Exploration: Obama will use the ISS for fundamental biological and physical research to understand the effects of long-term space travel on human health and to test emerging technologies to enable such travel.

ISS is doing this now, when its astronauts can spare the time.

Enhancing International Cooperation: The ISS has been a model for international cooperation to achieve peaceful objectives in space, helping develop positive relations with Russia during the 1990s. America must take the next step and use the ISS as a strategic tool in diplomatic relations with non traditional partners.

A “model.” Really? It’s taken over 10 years to finish, we’re going to stop flying Shuttle to it in 2 years, we’re not sending up everything we wanted to, and some of our international partners have been less than pleased with how ISS has played out. I recall hearing somewhere that we would NOT be using ISS as a model for our lunar explorations. Obama’s team should rethink the ISS “model” before using it as a diplomatic tool or rallying cry.

Retaining Options for Extended Operations: Barack Obama will consider options to extend ISS operations beyond 2016. After investing so much in developing the ISS, it would be a shame not to utilize it to the fullest possible extent.

Pardon my Chicago English, but duhhhhhh.

Barack Obama will support renewed human exploration beyond low earth orbit. He endorses the goal of sending human missions to the Moon by 2020, as a precursor in an orderly progression to missions to more distant destinations, including Mars.

Okay, he’s sticking with the Constellation Program’s timeline for the Moon (good!), but there’s no sign of accelerating that timeline, is there? On the flip side, he does say “the magic word,” Mars, which Congress had all but pulled out of NASA’s hide in the last budget battle.

Continuing Research and Development Investments to Support Future Missions: Barack Obama will support a robust research and technology development program that addresses the long-term needs for future human and robotic missions. He supports a funding goal that maintains at least 10 percent of the total exploration systems budget for research and development.

Interesting. According to
AAAS, R&D expenses encompass funding for Constellation, Earth science, planetary science, and aeronautics (essentially, everything except Shuttle), which account for $12.9 billion of the proposed $17.8 billion total. Given that 72% of the NASA budget constitutes R&D, this would be lowballing things, wouldn’t it? Perhaps this statement needs to be clarified.

Drawing in International Partners: Obama will encourage a cooperative framework for the conduct of a long-term and sustainable international exploration initiative. This will enable the United States to leverage its resources and to use space exploration as a tool of global diplomacy. As this framework is developed, Obama will continue NASA's architecture studies and advanced planning to ensure the American space workforce remains engaged and that America can lead the world to long-term exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond, in a collaborative and cost-effective way.

This is the second reference to diplomacy. Is the point here to make the space program a central point of our foreign diplomacy?

Partner to Improve Basic Capabilities: Obama will evaluate whether the private sector can safely and effectively fulfill some of NASA's need for lower earth orbit cargo transport.

How is this different from COTS?

Leveraging Robotic Capabilities to Explore the Solar System: Obama supports increased investment in research, data analysis, and technology development across the full suite of exploration missions including the Mars Sample Return mission and future missions to the Moon, asteroids, Lagrange points, the outer Solar System, and other destinations.


Supporting Space-Based Observatories: Platforms like the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X- Ray Observatory, the Gamma Ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope have yielded some of the greatest scientific discoveries of the last century. Obama is committed to a bold new set of such platforms and programs to expand our knowledge of the cosmos.

Which platforms is he committed to? The
James Webb Space Telescope? The Terrestrial Planet Finder? Inquiring minds want to know!

Studying the Earth and Monitoring Climate Change
Understanding how Earth supports life and how human activities affect its ability to do so is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. Because of decades of investment in research satellites, scientists now better understand and can better predict natural phenomena such as hurricanes and weather patterns. However, many of our current monitoring and research satellites are expected to end their operational life between now and 2026.

Given previous statements by Obama (and analyses by me), none of this surprise me.

Given the urgency of climate-related monitoring, and considering the time required to design, develop, and deploy Earth observation satellite systems, the Obama administration will lean forward to deploy a global climate change research and monitoring system that will work for decades to come.

“the Obama administration will lean forward to deploy”? Someone was asleep at the keyboard. :-) Actually, the
SERVIR project is already doing some of this work.

Stopping Political Interference: Barack Obama will strengthen baseline climate observations and climate data records to ensure that there are long-term and accurate climate records. He will not use climate change research data for political objectives.

As I noted in a previous
posting, this has since been proven to be false. This is just an attempt to score political points. If James Hansen, et al., were truly being “suppressed” for their opinions, they would be unemployed by now.

Supporting Global Food and Water Needs: The
Global Precipitation Measurement mission is an international effort to improve climate, weather, and hydrological predictions through more accurate and more frequent precipitation measurements. Obama will work to launch this mission without further delay.

I’d never heard of this one. It is, I believe, a follow-up to the
Tropical Rainforest Measurement Mission (TRMM), which my cousin Andy (an actual rocket scientist) worked on.

Enhancing Earth Mapping: Obama will continue support for the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, which allows study of the earth's land surfaces and provides valuable data for agricultural, educational, scientific, and government use.


Maintaining Leadership in Aeronautics Research
A strong national program of aeronautics research and technology contributes to the vitality of the United States aeronautics industry, the efficiency of the U.S. air transportation system, and the economic well-being and quality of life of our citizens. Barack Obama believes that Department of Transportation, NASA, and other agencies have important roles in assuring the best possible air transportation system and developing related technologies that enable products and services to compete effectively in the global marketplace.
Supporting Fundamental Research: Barack Obama will pursue more long-term fundamental research to reduce the risk associated with advancing the state of the art.
Advancing Future Transportation Needs: The Obama administration will support aeronautics research to address aviation safety, air traffic control, and noise reduction.

I’ve addressed this issue
previously. Aerospace matters to America because it’s one of the few places where we consistently run a trade surplus. Plus, with aerospace companies and subcontractors in every state, keeping Big Aero happy only makes good political sense. However, I’ve yet for anyone to give me what they consider a good and sufficient amount of money to spend on aeronautics research.

Promoting Fuel Efficiency: Rising oil prices not only impact motorists at the pump, they are also squeezing airlines and even the U.S. Air Force, which spent $5.8 billion on fuel in 2006, up from $2.8 billion in 2004. Advanced aeronautical research at NASA could dramatically improve the fuel efficiency of military and civilian aircraft, reducing costs for passengers and taxpayers alike. Barack Obama will support such research.

We can only hope.

In fiscal year 2008 alone, DOD expects to spend over $22 billion dollars to develop and procure satellites, launch vehicles, and other space systems. This is more than NASA's annual budget.

Sad, isn’t it?

Barack Obama believes that NASA can work more closely with other federal agencies to take advantage of their expertise and technologies.

Does this mean getting NASA to work with the Department of Energy and Department of Defense to finally get serious about researching and developing space solar power?

This includes sharing research and technical information as well as better coordination of acquisition programs. Ensuring an integrated and fully coordinated national space program will be the major responsibility of the re- established National Aeronautics and Space Council. Obama will also work to better integrate NASA in a better coordinated national science policy. Obama will appoint an Assistant to the President for Science and Technology Policy who will report directly to the president, and be deeply involved in establishing research priorities that reflect the nation's needs based on the best available advice from experts around the country.

This could be interesting, depending on what he wants to do with it; again, it’s sort of like reviving the Office of Technology Assessment. I have no fundamental objection to the NASC, so long as something constructive is done with it.

Space exploration must be a global effort. Barack Obama will use space as a strategic tool of U.S. diplomacy to strengthen relations with allies, reduce future conflicts, and engage members of the developing world.
Collaborating on Exploration: The United States needs to fully involve international partners in future exploration plans to help reduce costs and to continue close ties with our ISS partners. NASA has been working with 13 other space agencies to develop a globally coordinated approach to space exploration; Barack Obama will not only continue but intensify this effort. Human exploration beyond low-earth orbit should be a long-term goal and investment for all space faring countries, with America in the lead.

Does this include Iran? North Korea? China? This is the third reference to diplomacy. I sincerely hope Mr. Obama and his team don’t think that moving into space will suddenly make everybody get along swimmingly in a perfectly trusting environment of sweetness and light. Human beings and governments aren’t wired that way. I’m not against diplomacy. Obviously we need it. However, if an Obama administration would expect space activities to be a cure-all for problems ailing us on Earth, they’re likely to be sadly disappointed.

Collaborating on Climate Change Research: Barack Obama will expand and deepen American collaboration with international partners on climate research, both to increase understanding of climate challenges and to demonstrate American leadership in this arena.

As I noted above, SERVIR is already doing this, and to good effect.

Emphasizing an International, Cooperative Approach to Space Security
Keeping our space assets free of threats of disruption will be an Obama priority. This is not only a military concern, but also an issue relevant to commercial and scientific operators. Developing an international approach to minimizing space debris, enhancing capabilities for space situational awareness, and managing increasingly complex space operations are important steps towards sustaining our space operations.
Negotiating Agreements on "Rules of the Road": Barack Obama will work with other nations to develop "rules of the road" for space to ensure all nations have a common understanding of acceptable behavior.
Opposing Weaponization of Space: Space assets are increasingly important to our national security and our economy, but they are also extremely vulnerable. China's successful test of an anti-satellite missile in January 2007 signaled the beginning of a potential new arms race in space. Barack Obama opposes the stationing of weapons in space and the development of anti-satellite weapons. He believes the United States must show leadership by engaging other nations in discussions of how best to stop the slow slide towards a new battlefield.
Protecting America's Space Assets: Recognizing their vulnerability, Obama will work to protect our assets in space by pursuing new technologies and capabilities that allow us to avoid attacks and recover from them quickly. The Operationally Responsive Space program, which uses smaller, more nimble space assets to make US systems more robust and less vulnerable is a way to invest in this capability.

I’ve ridden this hobby horse
before as well. We’ve opposed Iran’s nuclear ambitions using diplomatic methods, and obviously Iran has yet to be cowed by our efforts or the Europeans’. We can make bold, idealistic statements about a future without nuclear or space weapons, but we need to think realistically about what we (through our next president) will do if our enemies do not share our idealism and build them anyway.

Expanding Public/Private Partnerships to Advance Leading Edge Technologies
The commercial space sector plays an essential role in the lives of normal Americans, contributing more than $100 billion to the global economy. Commercial satellites support direct-to-home television and digital audio services to over 30 million U.S. subscribers, high-speed Internet, traffic and weather monitoring, rapid transfer of financial data, and the imagery essential to natural resource and city planning. Technologies developed to meet the challenges of space exploration have found more than 30,000 commercial uses in products ranging from tennis shoes to medical equipment, bar codes, pacemakers and sunglasses, to technology that makes air travel safer and more efficient. Barack Obama knows that advanced space and aeronautics research can help catalyze economic growth. He will encourage public/private space technology partnerships to spur innovation.
Enhancing the Role of NASA as a Premier Institution of Innovation: Engineers and scientists at NASA have developed state-of-the-art innovations across the technological spectrum in areas ranging from solar cells and imaging to communications and aeronautics. Barack Obama will renew NASA's commitment to innovation-driving basic research that the private sector can use to develop new products for American consumers.

Well, good. Someone in the Obama camp understands space spinoffs and direct benefits.

Increasing Commercialization Benefits: Obama will promote cost sharing initiatives between government and industry to increase the state of the art in various technical areas, such as micro- electromechanical systems, nanotechnology, and biotechnology. Obama will establish multi-agency programs that focus on rapid maturation of advanced concepts and transfer to industry for commercialization.

Hooray! More spinoffs from more government agencies. Boo! Who’s going to pay for all the new bureaucracy?

Jumpstarting Consumer Technology: Obama will expand the use of prizes for revolutionary technical achievements that can benefit society, and funds for joint industry/government rapid-to-the- consumer technology advances.

What about prizes for more ambitious
space hardware and activities?

Obama will stimulate the commercial use of space and private sector utilization of the International Space Station. He will establish new processes and procurement goals to promote the use of government facilities.

Much of this is public policy now. Do we really need more laws and regulations?

Revising Regulations for Aerospace Export Control: Some sections of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) have unduly hampered the competitiveness of domestic aerospace industry. Outdated restrictions have cost billions of dollars to American satellite and space hardware manufacturers as customers have decided to purchase equipment from European suppliers. While protecting our national security interests, Barack Obama will direct a review of the ITAR to reevaluate restrictions imposed on American companies, with a special focus on space hardware that is currently restricted from commercial export. He will also direct revisions to the licensing process to ensure that American suppliers are competitive in the international aerospace markets, without jeopardizing American national security.

Huzzah! Assuming Lori Garver has had a hand in this policy statement, this paragraph just might be the most useful addition to public policy I’ve seen since Constellation or COTS. Why? Because America needs its technological market share. If our laws and regulations prevent American companies from retaining said market share, we lose the ability to make particular technologies because said companies go out of business or stop making the hardware because they can’t sell it. Fixing ITAR (i.e. shrinking it) would make many people’s lives easier.

Expanding the American Skill Base in Science and Engineering: Barack Obama fully supports efforts to advance new frontiers in technical areas, such as advanced structures, power generation, communication and navigation systems, and biomedical systems. These efforts address the requirements for exploration, but also have high potential for technological benefits in the private sector as well as in training the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Great. What about space solar power?
Helium-3 fusion? Reusable launch vehicles?

Engaging the Public and Inspiring the Next Generation

I am so tired of this line. If NASA is doing cool things, companies are paying well for scientific/engineering jobs, and government is rewarding creativity and entrepreneurship in aerospace, then engagement and inspiration will follow automatically. It’s not an outcome you can ensure, unless you can guarantee perfect, inspiring, brilliant, great teachers at every grade level and every discipline all across America.

Establishing Educational Access to Government Programs and R&D: Obama's NASA will develop K-12 education activities to translate the successes of our civil space programs, particularly our nation's scientific discoveries, our technology developments, and space exploration activities, into instructional programs for our children.

NASA is already doing this.

Inspiring Learning through Participatory Exploration: Technology is allowing students in an American classroom to remotely control a camera on the International Space Station and may someday enable them to control a rover on the Moon. This type of participatory exploration can inspire students to study mathematics, science and engineering.


Establishing Teacher/Researcher Fund for High Schools: Barack Obama will support nontraditional approaches, such as student design competitions and internet-based collaborations to engage students and develop the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Good. NASA is already doing this, to some extent, through the
Student Launch Initiative and University Student Launch Initiative.

Increasing Opportunities for College Students: Obama will support university programs that partner NASA, DOT, DOD and NOAA with academia to provide hands-on training experiences at the college level.

NASA is doing this already, though I’ve read quite a few gripes from Gen Y that NASA
needs to improve this aspect of mentoring young people.

Supporting Open Government Initiatives: Obama will engage our public servants in two-way dialogs with the public to discuss the national agenda for space, to show how their tax dollars are being used, and to solicit feedback how to better address the needs of the nation.

Oh, for gosh sakes…this is my day job! The bulk of my time is spent writing speeches, papers, and presentations that tell taxpayers exactly what’s going on with the Constellation Program. These speakers then take questions from the audience, which then get filtered back to me and my fellow writers to be incorporated into the next round of paper(s). It’s not my fault that Americans don’t have the money, time, or inclination to attend all the various conferences and public events that the Ares Projects try to reach in a year. Would more “town hall”-type meetings between NASA project managers and the hoi-polloi help improve NASA’s policies? Possibly. Certainly it would be eye-opening for some folks—on both sides of the conversation. Otherwise, it should not just be a matter of government condescending to ask, “What, little people, would you like from President Obama’s space program?”

So what’s my “bottom line” on this rather lengthy statement? First of all, it could’ve been shorter. A few sentences here and there would have been sufficient to let people know that the Obama campaign understands what’s going on in the space business. Also, I think this document could have been structured better. There was some overlap in places, as noted in my responses above. I am still left to wonder what Obama will make of his space policy in the event he gets elected. The priorities are scattered throughout the document: diplomacy, climate modeling, focusing on commercial spinoffs, (perhaps) carrying on with the Constellation Program, perhaps carrying on space science.

The most distressing thing about the document is a lack of thematic unity, strategy, or philosophy. It's like the Obama camp is throwing out ideas to see who will bite on what. I doubt, somehow, that any administration would be able to do ALL of the things included here, even if they wanted to. My choices are obvious (as are my gripes), and there are some nuggets here that tell me someone’s been doing their homework, but I doubt that “someone” is Obama.

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