The Politics of Space: Obama Wants to Increase NASA Funding

Over the weekend, Democratic senator Barack Obama made a public statement during his presidential campaign trail in Titusville, Florida. Whilst responding to a question about oceanic research, Obama elaborated on his plans for the future of NASA. Previously, there have been hints that a possible Obama Presidency would see a reduction in space funding in favour of a boost in education spending. However, Saturday’s statement was followed by some detailed text on Obama’s campaign blog outlining his priorities for the US dominance in space, the possibility of extending the Shuttle’s operations and speeding up development of the Constellation program…

Many will argue that NASA is operating on a shoestring budget as it is under the current Republican US government, so when reports circulated that the Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama wasn’t prioritising NASA spending, many became concerned about the bleak future for the space program should Obama be voted in. Republican candidate John McCain has always said that if he is voted in that NASA funding would continue to be a priority.

However, in the most detailed statement yet about his vision for the future of NASA, Obama has stated, “we have an administration that has set ambitious goals for NASA without giving NASA the support it needs to reach them.” This sentiment will be shared by many, not least by NASA officials, who have become very worried about the US position in space. Dr. Michael Griffin, NASA’s Director, is fully aware of the international competition the US space agency is facing. In a recent interview with the BBC, Griffin was realistic about China beating the US back to the Moon. “Certainly it is possible that if China wants to put people on the Moon, and if it wishes to do so before the United States, it certainly can. As a matter of technical capability, it absolutely can.” he said.

Ultimately, NASA is overstretched and under-funded, but will Obama’s promises be followed through after the election campaign trail? Regardless, Obama has some big policy plans indicating his increased interest in space exploration. Firstly, he is highly critical of the current funding situation and voices his concern about the Shuttle-Constellation “5-year gap”:

And we have to do more than provide short-term relief. We have to secure our long-term prosperity and strengthen America’s competitiveness in the 21st century. One of the areas where we are in danger of losing our competitive edge is our space program. When I was growing up, NASA inspired the world with achievements we are still proud of. Today, we have an administration that has set ambitious goals for NASA without giving NASA the support it needs to reach them. As a result, they’ve had to cut back on research, and trim their programs, which means that after the Space Shuttle shuts down in 2010, we’re going to have to rely on Russian spacecraft to keep us in orbit.”

These points are shared by others. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson recently headed a rally at Cape Canaveral in response to the announced Shuttle retirement job losses, voicing his opinion that once the Shuttle is shelved, NASA will rely on Russia for human space flight. This would have the effect of losing skilled spacecraft engineers in the US, only to provide jobs in Russia. Obama confronts this concern and highlights Nelson’s aims for the future of Cape Canaveral employees:

We cannot cede our leadership in space. That’s why I will help close the gap and ensure that our space program doesn’t suffer when the Shuttle goes out of service by working with Senator Bill Nelson to add at least one additional Space Shuttle flight beyond 2010; by supporting continued funding for NASA; by speeding the development of the Shuttle’s successor; and by making sure that all those who work in the space industry in Florida do not lose their jobs when the Shuttle is retired – because we cannot afford to lose their expertise.”

Wrapping up his online statement, Obama appears to be devoted to future manned missions to the “Moon, Mars and beyond,” with increased spending toward robotic missions. He also links strong space technology development with improvements in the US economy and world inspiration:

More broadly, we need a real vision for space exploration. To help formulate this vision, I’ll reestablish the National Aeronautics and Space Council so that we can develop a plan to explore the solar system – a plan that involves both human and robotic missions, and enlists both international partners and the private sector. And as America leads the world to long-term exploration of the moon, Mars, and beyond, let’s also tap NASA’s ingenuity to build the airplanes of tomorrow and to study our own planet so we can combat global climate change. Under my watch, NASA will inspire the world, make America stronger, and help grow the economy here in Florida.” – US Sen. Barack Obama

Whilst many may be suspicious of any Presidential candidate’s visions before they are voted in, it is a relief to know Obama has the drive to increase NASA spending and understands that this will have far-reaching benefits for the US and the world.

Aside: Is it me or are the anti-Obama “Paid for by John McCain 2008” ads on every website these days? Perhaps Obama needs to do some “space advocacy” ads to focus on some of the positive aspects of his campaign…

Source: Obama ’08

35 Replies to “The Politics of Space: Obama Wants to Increase NASA Funding”

  1. This is a good turn for Obama. I’m glad to see a reversal of the campaign’s previous stated direction of stealing funding for preschool and slowing Constellation.

  2. I am hopeful that Obama can follow through if elected, however what is said by a candidate is often different than what is done by an elected official. Especially after he sits down with his economic advisors and has to discuss how to handle a 500 billion dollar deficit.

    Good luck Obama, I hope you can find a way to give NASA a few billion dollars more here and there!

  3. Well, NASA is a government agency after all. Obama’s for anything that makes the government bigger and private enterprize smaller…. that money really should go to the small guys like Burt Rutan or JP Aerospace.

  4. His whole campaign has been about promissing an increase here and there… and everywhere.
    This is only the next statement in a line of items he wants to increase spending on.

    The big question is… just how will you fund all these things? Especially since one of your other promises is to decrease the tax burden on the American people.

    It’s easy to say you are going to do something. It is a lot harder to pay for it.

  5. For now. If he gets elected he’ll probably just “readjust” all his policy stances. When he ran in Illinois for Senator he had moved mostly to the center and then took a sharp left turn after being elected. It would be hard to predict if that would mean more or less spending for NASA. It’s too difficult to get this guy into focus while he’s running. I think it has something to do with his De Broglie wavelength.

  6. John’s right…America’s in deeeeeeeeep shit and will be for the coming years; the debt level of both americans and their federal government is just astounding…we’re talking tens of trillions here ; saving 10 billions there, another 20 there won’t change a thing because of the interest levels on those loans ; better pray those loaners won’t need their cash for the next thousand years! 😉

    This isnt anti-US, the all of theWest built its domination on both its people and the rest of the world through debt (uk, french, spanish, dutch, portuguese empires etc).
    Easy to be the richest if you borrow all your riches… 😉

    Anyway too bad Obama will have to deal with an added $Trillion thanks to monkeybush’s irresponsability and fanatism…Here’s to him & to sanity in America’s upcoming space program!

  7. Obama shouldn’t be knocked for having quality goals such as this. If we want to begin solving the problem of the national debt, first thing is first- stop putting the power completely in the hands of octogenarian millionaires. The last 8 years of republican economics have basically ruined the financial standing of this country and most of its citizens, obliterated science funding, and really only succeeded in making the rich richer. If Obama is unable to complete all of his goals when he makes it to office, it will be anything but his own fault. We have to aim high, no matter what the outcome. Voting for basically a continuation of our dismal economic policies will be like firing straight into the dirt at our feet. Without a doubt in my mind, I can say that McCain and his “straight talk” can only add to the problems that we’ll already be working to solve for the rest of our lives.

  8. “NASA has lost focus and is no longer associated with inspiration,” he said. “I don’t think our kids are watching the space shuttle launches. It used to be a remarkable thing. It doesn’t even pass for news anymore.”
    Barack Obama interviewed by Cleveland’s WKYC-TV

  9. Who wouldn’t say anything to win votes? Truth went out with Johnson, and was shot to death by Nixon. If you want truth in politics, you’re looking at the wrong country.

    (In the interest of fairness, McCain’s said some pretty contradictory stuff as well. Don’t forget that.)

    As to Quantum Flux, people don’t want to spend cash on stuff that they need. Why the hell would the common man spend money on Burt Rutan or JP Aerospace when they barely care to spend money on anything that doesn’t directly concern them?

  10. Wonder what he will say tomorrow… Obama gives a whole new meaning to the word change since he seems to “change” every day…

  11. Obama’s presidency, if all goes to current plan, will actually have very little to do with space travel after the first year… which I think is the real issue thats caused his change of heart.

    Not long into his rule we will have the very public and tearful retirement of the space shuttle system.
    Obamas shining future will have begun with the most prominent symbol of the nations advancements going away, with nothing to replace it until well after 2012.
    That will be a hard thing functional to explain during the Reelection campaign.

    A true believer in space would fund Constellation and COTS. Maybe throwing extra money towards the development of reusable spacecraft and continued work on the ISS.

    Someone who was “for space” would not throw on an extra burden to the program just for political gain.

  12. Just make the check payable to Quantum_Flux Incorporated and my company will solve all of the worlds problems…. can I get a “YES WE CAN!!!” everybody? 😉

  13. We can no longer afford to let things languish like we did after Apollo, there are simply too many players at the table now. Even the most thickheaded politician has got to recognize this. If we lose our technological edge, we become a second rate power by default.

  14. The total amount of money in the world, like the total mass, is finite. If governments and regular folks don’t have it then it must be being hoarded by some people or organisations. Forgive me if this sounds a little bit communist, I don’t intend it to, but what Obama (for he will win, oh yes, he will win) and everuy other leader needs to do is find ways of encouraging the people who have all the money to spend it on projects which benefit the whole planet.

    For instance, some could be investing in NASA projects to add a direct boost to space exploration right now, and others could be investing in education to provide the rocket scientists and astronauts of the future.

    This is gonna be even harder than transfering funds from the war chest and black-ops, but it can and should be done.

    There you go Senator Obama, my challenge to you. It may seem like a Republican philosophy but it satisfies a deeply held Democratic belief.

    You can do it!

  15. …and if Obama wants to make NASA inspirational, he has to take it back to the glory days of Apollo. Health & Safety are killing NASA. Never mind “going to the moon” if he wants the world to watch their TV’s in awe we need a permanent manned colony on the moon and regular manned missions to Mars by 2030.

    If he said that in January and backed it up with funding we would see a huge interest in Space, not just from the public but also from private companies, investors and rich philanthropists!

  16. Titusville is in Kennedy Space Center’s backyard, and near where I live. I work at KSC. The consensus there is he told the crowd what he thought we wanted to hear.

    When he can stand up and say the same speech in someplace like Iowa, which does not have a space center, then we will believe him. For now, he’s just another politician trying to get elected by telling everyone what everyone wants to hear. John McCain did the same thing when he was here.

  17. Mr. Obama is a visionary. His vision is manifold and inclusive. Space exploration, ocean exploration, conservation, and plain old inspiration seasoned with a little perspiration are vital to reducing the national debt. Generating wealth through advancement will be good for everyone.

  18. I think we’re all old enough to realise that politicians will promise whatever to whom so ever depending where they’re campaigning. So in KSC’s backyard it’s a case of ” I’m upping the funding for NASA; in Detroit I’m going to subsidise the car industry”. And so on. We have the same problem in Britain. At leasr you have a space agency and programme. In 1971 we launch the Prospero probe on Black Arrow – 24 hours later the government abandon the entire programme!!! I look with envy at America, Russia and China because of their robust programmes. NASA is still the top dog. I just wish it was a little more coherent in its planning – robots or humans?; shuttle or re-usable rockets?; space station or something worthwhile? Christ, I thought we’d be mining asteroids by now and have radio scopes on the Far Side. Focus properly NASA, be mighty again. There should be fleets of craft heading to the outer reaches of the solar system – half a dozen to Titan, Ganymede, Europa, Pluto, Triton. Make your dreams and ideas BIG.

  19. Obama is a boot ass rookie liberal senator that has never done a damn thing in his life.

    John McCain, besides having a world’s worth more experience, has actually flown something. I would trust him FAR more than some fancy talking wannabe.

  20. I’d be interested in seeing his voting record in regards to NASA funding.

    He is telling people what they want to hear. That’s how politicians do it.

  21. This is terrible news. The Space Shuttle is pork and Obama offering to extend it tells something about his attitudes towards pork barrel spending in general.

  22. This article may seem inspirational to Obama supporters, but don’t be fooled. If he does get elected I would be shocked if he didn’t try to CUT NASA’s budget. He has mentioned wanting to do it on more than one occasion. I think his recent remarks are just lip service to the crowd. Well, all politicians do that. I’m just saying one should not believe this guy on this topic because it isn’t what he is telling other people. He has told others in the past that he wants to cut NASA funding. Why the sudden change of heart? Oh yeah, because he was in Florida when he made the remarks and needs to win Florida for a chance to win the General election..
    One thing about John McCain, on the other hand is at least we have an idea where he is really coming from. He was the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation (the guys holding NASA’s purse strings) for many years. He is still on the committee, in fact. The only “bad” thing he ever did against NASA was suggest that there be a freeze on budget INCREASES for one year. Just last month he said he was willing to use taxpayer dollars for manned Mars missions. I think Obama got his ‘idea’ from McCain. If either of the two is going to support NASA it will be McCain, not Obama. McCain’s record clearly demonstrates that.
    “Republican candidate John McCain has always said that if he is voted in that NASA funding would continue to be a priority.” Believe it… Obama’s record (if he had a record) is questionable and suspect at best.

  23. “Obama wants NASA to plug the 5-year gap between the Shuttle and Constellation”

    Won’t that just make two gaps? 🙂

  24. Politicians who are entirely neutral on space during any other time suddenly become very anti-NASA (Won’t somebody think of the children?!?) or extremely pro-NASA (It’s the dream and promise of mankind!) –

    during an election year.

    Nothing much should be made of anything a politician says in an election year.

  25. Tyler Durden –
    You are absolutely right. .. We should ‘look’ at what they say in non-election years. Probably get a clearer picture of how they really feel..

  26. 0% chance that he will follow through with that promise. In fact, he’ll probably flip-flop on NASA funding next month.

  27. Obama will do anything to make the government’s influence bigger, including inflating NASA. That money will probably go to putting magnifying glasses into orbit and burning Obama dissenters.

  28. Opportunism is human. But it depends on where NASA funding is ranging on Obama’s list of preferences. As soon as he has to deal with practical constraints he will not carry out everything promised. So what will be of more value for him when the time has come to lead and to make real choices. His preferences and also the preferences of the people that surround and influence him need to be concidered, if his commitment to his NASA funding promises has to be assessed.

  29. Hmm . . . a couple decades ago it was the “arms race.” Now it is the “space race.” Thank gawd for for Washington paranoia. Otherwise there would be very little for NASA to do.

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