Dwayne Day says that this is what we seem to have.
It’s an interesting thesis, I guess, from a sociological standpoint, but I’m not sure how relevant it is to those of us trying to influence things for the better (i.e., in the direction of vastly larger numbers of people in space).
As I wrote to him when I saw a draft of this a couple weeks ago:
While “colonization” is clearly politically incorrect these days, I don’t think that leadership is, and there would have been no (or at least no more than he received anyway) negative repercussions from its usage.
The real problem with “leadership” as a goal is that it’s such a low bar. If there really were a race, and there really were one or more robust spacefaring nations on the planet, then leadership would be important, but sadly, as pathetic as the program has been for the past three decades, it’s still number one by almost any measure. The only real hope is for the private sector to go out and start kicking some butt.
Anyway, I wonder how necessary such language really is. It seems to me that the goo goos who go for this kind of language (“cooperation,” “exploration”) probably are unlikely to support space programs anyway. It might be better to use more robust language to get stronger support from those who do support it.
One of the disquieting things to me about the January 14th speech was that, after hearing it, I still wasn’t sure why we were doing it. Given that the Europeans aren’t going to like us regardless of what we do (short of castrating our economy with Kyoto, signing up with the ICC, etc.), we might as well state some clear economic and national security goals that are complemented by the exploration initiative.
Of course, I think that this is all orthogonal to our actual future in space, since regardless of the presidential justifications for it, government space programs are doomed to mediocrity by their nature, and we’ll have a sufficiently robust private sector in the next couple decades such that NASA will become superfluous.
As Dwayne notes in comments here, he expanded on this topic quite a bit in comments over at Jeff Foust’s place a few days ago.
I should also note that the discussion took an interesting side turn when the question was asked “What is exploration?” particularly as opposed to “science.” This is a very key question on which current policy rests, and I’m going to give it some thought, and its potential implications in a future post.