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And Now For Something Completely Different

A partisan Mars blog.

I think that the notion that a Democrat president would be better for space than Bush is blindly wishful thinking. Based on the logo, much of this hopefulness seems based on the myth of Jack Kennedy as space visionary, when the record shows otherwise. Apollo was a unique event born of its times, and to think that just putting another JFK in the White House will somehow resurrect it is to misunderstand history. And in fact, the last thing that we need is a new Apollo, which there is unfortunately some danger that the president's new initiative will become.

Neither party is very attuned to a vibrant space policy. They don't even know, or are able to imagine, what one might look like, but at least we have made some progress under this administration, in terms of rationalizing FAA licensing rules, and starting a process that may get NASA out of the way of human flights to LEO.

While I'm not a single-issue voter when it comes to space, if I were, I'd probably vote for Bush, because Kerry has said nothing to indicate that his policy would be an improvement on the present one, and the natural inclination of Democrats is to fund things perceived to be closer to home. Walter Mondale is certainly more typical of potential Democrat space policy than is John F. Kennedy. If Yudel feels for whatever reason compelled to support the donkeys, then he should do so, but he shouldn't fool himself that they're going to get him, or anyone else, to Mars any time soon.

Posted by Rand Simberg at April 11, 2004 11:14 AM
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I guess some people like uphill battles for this is surely what he has taken on in attempting to convince us Kerry is better than Bush in the space arena when there is no evidence that I can discover to support his assertion.

The only evidence I have seen is quite to the contrary.

Posted by Mike Puckett at April 11, 2004 12:01 PM

A Kerry Presidency would probably echo Bill Clinton's - a slow degrading of NASA's budget, coupled with more interventionist policy with respect to private space flight.

If Kerry is elected, he'll probably continue in the same general direction as Bush's plan, simply because by then the wheels will have been turning substantially and it will be easier to simply continue what has already started. But budget support won't be there, timetables will be pushed back, and more 'study' called for. In the meantime, absent a strong vision and tight deadlines, NASA will get hit with even more earmarks for politician's pet projects which NASA never asked for, and this will erode the budget even more.

That's pretty much what happened on Clinton's watch. One of the reasons I favor a strong 'vision' with fixed goals is that it's much harder for politicians to slide pork into it.

Posted by Dan at April 11, 2004 01:49 PM

Insofar as Mars will require support from a great many Administrations, and since neither Kerry nor Bush will support a "Mars Direct" style sprint for Mars, I do not believe the 2004 election will have any real long term significance for the future of America's space program - - either way.

That said, I also agree Republicans are traditionally the better supporters of humans in space. But precisely because this is true, I also believe that Democrats who express support for humans in space should be nurtured and encouraged - - for what was once lost and then found is far more valuable that what never left the reservation.


Posted by Bill White at April 11, 2004 03:21 PM

I think y'all are also forgetting; wasn't Clinton the one who singled out DC-X or some other small launcher project as one of his single uses of the line-item veto? (And it was what, 1/400 of 1% of the federal budget?)

Posted by Phil Fraering at April 11, 2004 03:56 PM

You are right there Phil.

The problem for the Dems is that for every John Kennedy there are 3 Proxmires and 4 Mondales.

Posted by Mike Puckett at April 11, 2004 07:12 PM

To add: He did line item veto the DC-X.

It seems JFK was outlier and not the norm for the Democrats in regards to space and that Nixon was the outlier for the Republicans, representing the low point of Republican support for manned spaceflight.

Posted by Mike Puckett at April 11, 2004 07:14 PM

Found this:

"It seems that Kerry, in his usual high-handed manner, unveiled this proposal in the Senate instead of in committee as is the custom, and also without consulting his colleagues on either side of the aisle. Not surprisingly, Kerry's proposal went screaming to defeat, 75-20. The bill, Amendment 1452 for the Senate dated 2/9/94, rescinded the following funds, in millions:

Selective Service: $15 million and program termination
Trident Missile system: $1130 million and program termination
Follow-On Early Warning System: $100 million and program termination
Ballistic Missile Defense: $900 million
Armed Forces recruiting: $33 million
Titan IV missile system: $350 million
National Foreign Intelligence Program and the Tactical Intelligence and Related Activities (DoD): $1000 million and a five-year freeze at the new spending level
Space Station Freedom: $900 million and program termination
Nuclear weapons research and testing: $900 million and a cap of 4,000 nuclear warheads regardless of treaties.
Forced reductions in the Navy's P-3 Antisubmarine program

It doesn't sound like Kerry was terribly concerned with the defense of the US, providing a striking departure even from Democrats like Robert Byrd. He didn't know what he was talking about then, although he certainly had no problem grandstanding, and it appears he hasn't learned much since. (References and other discussion can be found at Citizen Smash, as well.)"

Posted by Mike Puckett at April 11, 2004 07:34 PM

The idea of Democrats for Space is a charming one. Unfortunately it is also an exercise in futility until these Dems decide to deny any candidate who opposes space exploration and development their votes.

Posted by Mark R. Whittington at April 11, 2004 07:58 PM

I've held off saying something until I could at least formulate some at least halfway intelligent comment.

Both parties, in my view, have a decidedly mixed record on space. Space activists, as well, have a problematical record.

Yes, looking at the JFK myth is hardly a good one. JFK used space as a Cold War campaign. He used Apollo as means of scoring points against the Soviet Union. Not a bad thing to do, mind you, just not imbued with the idealism and vision common to space activists, whatever their ideology.

A more interesting case is LBJ. His support of space seems more genuine than JFK's. It began when he was a powerful Senator and kept going throughout his term as President. Mixed up with that support, though, was his use of NASA as a tool for industrializing his beloved South.

In the present political campaign, Kucinich has called for tripling NASA's budget. That's pretty strong support -- and from someone fairly far to the left in the Democratic party. He also probably has agendas that are different from lots of space activists.

I can't condemn this kind of support. My support and interest in space has waxed and waned over the years. While I started off in physics, I didn't work in aerospace until I was in my 40s. In fact, my interest in the hard sciences pretty much evaporated by the mid 1970s. It was only O'Neill's vision -- one that spoke to more than technical "gee whiz" concerns -- that pulled me back into the field.

Let's consider Republican support of space. We now have three Republican Presidents who have given at least some high profile support of space. Reagan and the two Bushes have done things that show support for space. But they have also fallen short in some ways. Challenger showed some significant flaws in NASA -- as did "Hubble Trouble" a few years later. While there was some response to these events, it's possible to view the response as inadequate. The first Bush's appointment of Goldin looks like a horribly flawed decision. The man should never have been NASA Administrator. One wonders how carefully Goldin was checked out.

By the time the current President Bush took office, problems with NASA were widely known. Yet he took months to replace Goldin -- and then only when Goldin quit just before some embarrassing failures were to become public. Still, though, Bush finally did move to replace Goldin with a man who appears to be a major improvement.

On balance, it currently appears that Republicans have been more supportive of space than Democrats. But this higher level of support didn't always translate into more effective programs for opening the space frontier.

Mark Whittington's comment shows a conceit all too common among space activists. Mark is normally a thoughtful guy so his statement that space activists should threaten to withhold votes from candidates that don't support us surprises me.

Yes, millions of Americans have some interest in space. All one needs to do is look at the page counts for various Web sites to verify that. But most space interested Americans aren't all that interested. And other Americans? We can hope they're only indifferent.

Space activism has become the strong interest of only a very few. We're not a politically powerful group. What we have going for us are some interesting ideas. That's all. We haven't created a Sierra Club or NRA or ACLU.

If we did threaten to walk over space issues, both Bush and Kerry would more than likely say "Fine -- don't let the door hit you on the way out." There would be general laughter after we had left.

Space activists need to do at least two things to be taken more seriously in today's political environment. First, we must do a better job of recruiting people into our groups. When we have at least hundreds of thousands of people in our groups -- with thousands committed enough to do more than subscribe to a magazine or visit a web site -- then we'll have some real political power. Secondly, we must learn to work with people who don't share our visions. This requires us doing more listening than talking and figuring out how things we favor can help other people do things that they want.

We could consider the computer industry. Millions of Americans haven't bought computers because they "believe" in computers. They buy them because they can be used to meet some need or desire of theirs. That's where we must be.

Posted by Chuck Divine at April 13, 2004 08:56 AM

Clinton didn't issue a line-item veto against the DC-X: he didn't gain the authority for such vetos until 1997, one year after the DC-XA met its demise. Clinton did veto a few military space projects during the brief time he had line-item veto power, including Clementine II and Military Space Plane.

Posted by Jeff Foust at April 13, 2004 11:56 AM

Results tell: Look at how little real progress has been made since Apollo. And don't forget that even that was a single purpose program.

Most of the commentary here is in the "Who has spent the most government money on space" category. I've yet to see either party push a real program for sustained space development - just government oriented space milestones: research probes, first moon base, first manned Mars landing, etc. That isn't necessarly WRONG, but it doesn't promote development, either.

Posted by VR at April 13, 2004 05:24 PM

Well, dang. When I first saw the link I thought it said "demstomars." I coulda supported that. First we send them up there, and then four or five years later we send them some life-support equipment...

Posted by McGehee at April 13, 2004 05:51 PM

VR wrote:

Results tell: Look at how little real progress has been made since Apollo. And don't forget that even that was a single purpose program.

Correct, VR. These days NASA can be used more as a bad example. Want to condemn government? Point at NASA. Want to condemn workaholism? Point at NASA. Want to condemn intelligent people? Point at NASA.

That's pretty damned depressing when you think about it. It's perhaps more useful (at least to space development) to note the shortcomings that have led to this lack of accomplishment. For instance:

  • All that hard work has left people too exhausted to think critically and independently. Ability to learn is severely compromised.
  • Governments don't always look to solve problems. They look to win popular support (at least in democracies). This can lead, eventually, to solving problems, but it can take a long time. Remember, also, that free, democratic societies have been shown to be the best at problem solving.
  • Intelligence is no guarantor of correctness. It just means the person can (not necessarily will) learn something that people of lower intelligence either can't at all or at least as quickly.

Posted by Chuck Divine at April 14, 2004 08:34 AM

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