The 2012 Presidential campaign dominates the news but space policy rarely gets mentioned; and when it does the mention is often ill-informed or very abstract. Perhaps that will change.
The old paradigms supporting America’s space program have faded; China has not replaced the Soviet Union as an opponent which requires a national demonstration of technical capabilities. Spinoffs and jobs provided from space are overlooked in the larger economic mess. Science is nice but hardly urgent when the debate centers on the national debt or the social safety net.
Somehow, the ½ of 1 percent of the federal budget that gets spent purely on the future has gotten overlooked.
Almost three years ago, the Review of Human Plans Committee (aka “the Augustine Commission”) was announced. I know we all had great hopes of that commission and its report. Whatever you may think of their work – and I believe a lot of it was good – the political leadership in Washington has made hash of the nation’s space policy. Not only did the current administration fail to adopt any of the major options which Augustine reported as “worthy of a great nation”, but the Congress has decided to fight the administration’s initiatives at every step. Paul Spudis just named 2011 as America’s space “Annus Horribilis”. It has really been a lousy three years.
Not that there haven’t been great accomplishments; Hubble still making discoveries every day, as is Kepler; the ISS is fully crewed with research going on every day; Curiosity is on its way to Mars; even the Shuttle made a graceful and successful dénouement. But the future, the plans and policies for the future; there lies a sad state of affairs.
In the spring of 2009, Bill Gerstenmaier asked me to be one of the NASA support staff to help the Augustine Commission effort. He also assigned one of the senior NASA HQ staff, Tom Cremins, to work with me. So all summer, Tom and I played a tag team along with several other NASA folks helping to provide support to the Augustine Commission. I got to know Tom really well during this period and have a great deal of respect for his judgment and knowledge. That friendship was my best personal reward for supporting Augustine.
Now, Bill and Tom are in the final stages of preparing a paper reviewing the value of human spaceflight to the nation. In the midst of bickering and roadblocks, they remain positive and are looking for the way ahead.
Many of us, including my friend Tom, are gathering in Boulder, Colorado, in less than two weeks to review this situation and hopefully find meaningful ways to explain the importance of space exploration in these days. You can join us for this discussion; see http://sas.data-engineering.com/
I’ll give you a report on the outcome in about two weeks.