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Obama's space policy plan

  1. Aug 19, 2008 #1
    ...does this belong here, or in like "General Discussion" or "earth" or "Astronomy" or something? Anyway:

    Via Open Left, Barack Obama released his plan for space policy this week and I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on it.

    I'm not really sure how to read these things and although it sounds great as written, I don't know how seriously to take what's written here-- they seem to be taking on a LOT of stuff here, and I don't know, can they fund all of this? If they can't fund it all what gets priority?

    Along those lines it seems like most of the document is focusing on exploration and manned space activities, and I can't tell whether this means anything-- will we see more of the process we've seen under Bush, where it seems like manned space has pushed out NASA's astronomy/robotics stuff? Or can we can somehow hope that both will get funded?

    I do like the bit near the beginning about the National Aeronautics and Space Council. It seems from my [distant] perspective like a big problem with NASA in recent years has been a lack of kind of an overriding vision or anyone looking over everything to make sure the progress that was planned is being achieved.

    Anyway any opinions?
     
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  3. Aug 20, 2008 #2

    Astronuc

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    Show me the money! :rolleyes:

    Vision is great, but without the funding - it's just vision.


    Space exploration is costly, and for now it seems a luxury we can't afford.
     
  4. Aug 20, 2008 #3

    Gokul43201

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    Still, vision is better than no vision.
     
  5. Aug 21, 2008 #4

    BobG

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    Obama's is much more detailed, but is it that different from McCain's space policy?

    In human history, a nation sponsoring exploration has done it for economic gain. In fact, most of the great sea explorers were famous for finding a new route to a known land; not for discovering a new land.

    Exploration of the solar system and the universe is missing that link between exploration and gain. There hasn't been a sufficiently clear explanation of how space exploration, especially manned exploration, will increase the nation's economic well-being or security.

    There is an indirect one. The manned lunar program sparked the development of a lot of new technologies. In turn, those new technologies were turned into commercial products and the US was the leader in making those new products. The same could be true of a new space exploration plan. It's not the exploration of space that has benefits - it's the investment in developing new products and a nation becoming more technologically advanced than its neighbors that has benefits. Manned space exploration is just a lot more exciting way to invest in technology development and a method that gives some focus to your investment. It's better than piecemeal investment in a lot of little things that never really fit together and never really find their niche.

    That said, the Earth orbiting commercial, civilian government, and military space programs are really where the US gets its biggest payoff. I see those being more important if you're looking for a short term gain. I'd temper that a little because the space industry is reaching the point where it's mature enough to handle technology development on its own. It doesn't need massive subsidization by the government.

    Controlling space debris and the nature of space warfare is something the government should be taking quite a lot of interest in. Space warfare isn't like conventional warfare where you blow up a tank and the pieces all lie around on the ground around the tank. You blow up a satellite and the pieces orbit the Earth for years - you've essentially turned a satellite into hundreds of tiny ASATs fired at random. And those pieces (the debris) are as likely to hit your own satellites as they are enemy satellites.

    The government ought to also be very interested in coming up with some international plan for space traffic control somewhat similar to international air traffic control. Space is big, but everyone winds up clumping into the few really valuable orbits and collision avoidance between satellites of different nationalities is a nightmare. They're not allowed to talk to each other, there is no standardized custom to follow, and the satellite operators resort to taking an educated guess as to what the other satellite is going to do - not too hard of a thing to do as long as neither satellite does anything new or surprising, but.....
     
  6. Aug 21, 2008 #5
    Hmm, that is an interesting question. Let's look at them side by side. If you break the plans down into bullet points and sort them you see:

    Both Obama and McCain plan

    - Both open with the words "for the past 50 years". Heh.

    - Both commit to funding the Space Shuttle successor vehicles.

    - Both explicitly commit to ensuring the space shuttle program is not terminated "too soon" before the successor vehicles become available for use.

    - Both endorse privatized spaceflight.

    - Both commit to completing and maximizing use of the ISS National Laboratory.

    - Both commit to extending our programs of earth-monitoring satellites.

    - Both commit to using NASA to drive aeronautics research.

    - Both endorse the Bush plan of sending humans to the moon again by 2020 as a first step toward a journey to Mars.

    Obama plan only

    - Obama specifically says he will "stimulate" private-sector spaceflight. McCain only acknowledges that private-sector spaceflight exists [though one assumes an intent to extend existing private-sector stimulation programs would be implied by this].

    - Obama specifically mentions the idea of developing a plan with international participants in the ISS whereby NASA crews might use foreign space programs as an "alternate means" of moving material and persons to the ISS. Obama's plan overall has a repeated focus on international collaboration throughout that is not alluded to anywhere in McCain's document.

    - Obama explicitly emphasizes extending our robotics and space-based astronomy programs. McCain says only that he will "maintain the nation's space infrastructure", which may cover some of that ground; McCain does refer positively to robotic exploration in his introduction but does not mention astronomy anywhere.

    - Obama proposes the enforcement of greater collaboration between NASA and our military's space-related programs, and the establishment of a single authority to oversee both.

    - Obama acknowledges the space security / space warfare issue, in a slightly baffling section where he in one paragraph opposes the "weaponization of space" and the development of space weaponry; and in the next paragraph endorses the development of technologies to protect U.S. space assets from attack (wouldn't that just be... weapons?!).

    - Obama makes specific (and extended) note of the idea of using NASA as an educational resource.

    - Obama makes a specific pledge to prevent climate change data from being subject to political interference.

    McCain plan only

    - McCain makes a specific pledge to prevent "earmarks" from impacting the NASA budget.

    ------

    They are in a lot of ways similar plans, excluding fluff I'd say the substantiative differences are (1) Obama's goal of getting DoD space programs to help NASA and uniting both under the NASC and (2) Obama's goal of international collaboration on space.

    I think we can also say it is something of a difference that Obama's plan is much more detailed. McCain's plan is a wikipedia-esque summary of our current space program and a short list of bullet points for future goals, Obama's plan goes into great specifics and seems to have received more intentional development as a policy document. This perhaps seems to indicate that to some extent an Obama administration would consider NASA an important priority more so than a McCain administration, that they're thinking about it this hard this far out.
     
  7. Aug 27, 2008 #6

    BobG

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    I think that's an accurate point. Even if the plans are similar, the level of detail probably reflects a difference in priorities.

    I think Lyndon Johnson was the best thing to ever happen to the US space program. Even as VP, he was the catalyst for a lot of the US space policy. He got NASA's primary space center located in Houston, TX in return for his efforts (Johnson was a Texas Senator before becoming VP), but he was much more the driving force behind NASA and the lunar mission than Kennedy ever was (similar to a lot of other things Kennedy got credit for - Kennedy was a gifted orator while Johnson was a skilled backroom operator that got things done).

    Tough to say how much teeth winds up being put behind the words, but a seemingly higher priority is at least a positive sign (to me at least, but a strong space program is admittedly good for me).
     
  8. Sep 1, 2008 #7
    Truly, space exploration was Kennedy's greatest project and legacy for us.

    However, the single most remarkable promise that was made, last week, during the convention--that for me at least, almost sort of harkens back to JFK and our need to be challenged as a nation--wasn't so much the purposes of space exploration, as you might expect; but alternatively, was the promise Obama had made: that the United States might finally, and cohesively aim to ween ourselves off foreign, oil within the next ten years.

    So as much as I respect NASA, and believe whole heartedly in the value of astronomical research and space exploration; I think that "going green" really ought to be our major project for the next decade instead.

    The moon race was a contest between super powers. But converting to renewable alternative energies like wind and solar, is not so much a contest though, for technological supremacy among nations, as it is a necessity to the benefit of our generation and the next, world wide.

    It's definitely what we should be focusing on.
     
  9. Sep 2, 2008 #8

    Astronuc

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    The Space program seems to have a life of itself. It seems more a matter of funding it, which has become increasingly difficult with the war in Iraq (and Afghanistan) and increasing deficits - and reduced tax revenue.
     
  10. Sep 2, 2008 #9

    Gokul43201

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    I recall noting at the time, how this was worded: it was about being independent of Middle Eastern oil in ten years, not all foreign oil.

    I think most US oil comes from Canada and South America and only about a quarter comes from the ME.

    Oops! Sorry for the off-topic sidetracking....by Jupiter! (I think that brings us back on topic)
     
  11. Sep 2, 2008 #10

    D H

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    Both are smokin' political crack on this issue. The decision to retire the Shuttle, one of the key recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, was essentially irrevocable. NASA told both the Congress and the President that there is no going back on this decision and asked both whether they truly did want NASA to go forward with this decision. NASA started the process four years ago and crossed the point of no return two years ago. Now that the cows have left the barn it is a bit too late (two years too late) to close the barn doors.

    Why is this decision irrevocable? Its a matter of logistics and people. The Shuttle is chock full of specialty items, and many of them are essentially antiques. The contracts for 95% of these items were terminated two years ago. Most contractors simply dismantled the vintage 1970s equipment used to manufacture these items. That manufacturing equipment is gone. The hardware used in the Shuttle has a special name: Human-rated space hardware. It is not just the end product that is rated for use with humans in space. The entire manufacturing process is evaluated. Restarting the Shuttle would entail redoing the human-rating of the manufacturing process all over again. This can be done, but it will not be cheap.

    The people problem may be even worse. Aerospace engineering is already a specialized field, with limited job opportunities. Human spaceflight aerospace engineering is a very narrow specialty within a specialized field. It can take more than a year for such a person to find a new job if laid off abruptly. Fortunately, the people working on the Shuttle had a four year layoff notice: Plenty of time to find a new job if they started looking immediately. Many did exactly that. That the contractors involved in Shuttle operations are offering huge incentives and promises of post-retirement employment has done little to stem the exodus.

    Now that NASA is two years into the retirement process, many people who used to work for USA and other contractors have found new jobs elsewhere. Those people will not go back to working on the Shuttle, period. Of those who haven't moved on, all but those who plan on making 2010 the year they too retire are actively searching. NASA may soon find it very difficult to fly the Shuttle because of a lack of personnel.
     
  12. Dec 12, 2008 #11

    Astronuc

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    Does Obama Want to Ground NASA's Next Moon Mission?
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20081212/us_time/08599186604500
    Hmmmm. NASA has already been on a tight budget. The problem with scientifica and technical programs that take longer than 4-8 years is that they can be disrupted by a new administration, which may have different priorities and goals.
     
  13. Dec 12, 2008 #12

    D H

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    That story originated with the Orlando Sentinel. A different twist from the Washington Post
    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/the-trail/2008/12/11/by_joel_achenbach_nasa_adminst.html
    Apparently strong words were said. That said, Griffin says strong words all the time. He's a nerdy engineer at heart, not a politician. This does not look scripted or intimidating (from the Post again):
     
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