Next Week's Florida Primary Forces The Issue
Until now, US space policy has been a yawner on the presidential
campaign trail. The prevailing wisdom is that the issue is not
important to voters nationally, and that the downside risk of
saying something unpopular outweighs any benefit in discussing
However, next Tuesday is primary day in Florida, and NASA is a
big part of the state economy. And so, begrudgingly, the candidates
are giving up vague hints about how space exploration would be
treated in their administrations.
Florida Today reports that among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton
was first to go on record supporting a "robust human spaceflight"
program, although she was less sure of the value of going to the
moon or Mars on a specific timetable, which is the underlying
premise of the Constellation program.
Barack Obama -- who had previously proposed mothballing
Constellation for five years to divert the money to education
programs -- must have talked to someone about what it would cost to
restart that program after a layoff. He's since softened his
On the GOP side, Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney
remained vague on NASA's funding or future direction. Back in
August, he said of the space program, "Our future is driven in
large measure by our investments in technology and innovation and
learning, and that's what the space program is."
Florida is considered a must-win for Rudy Giuliani. He has
called the five-year gap between the shuttle fleet's retirement in
2010 and the Orion program's start in 2015 "unacceptable," similar
to Obama's new position on the Democrat side. Neither, so far, has
offered ideas for closing that gap.
Republican Mike Huckabee says only that the space program should
be expanded, but says he wouldn't want to make a decision on
whether US astronauts should be sent to Mars.
The paper quotes Howard McCurdy, a science policy expert and
public administration professor at American University in
Washington, who says this year's compressed primary election season
has squeezed discussion of policy out of the campaign.
"Everyone is transfixed by who's in the lead and who won last
week, and we really haven't got around to talking about issues,"
McCurdy said. Or, in other words, there will be time to talk about
going to Mars after you find out if you're going to Pennsylvania