Because of the 2008 presidential election, our nation's human spaceflight program is at a perilous crossroad.
While Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain all have made allusions to supporting the program, none has made it a priority. In fact, in late 2007 Obama went on record as saying he planned to pay for his $18 billion education plan by taking it out of the hide of NASA. In defending his desire to delay the Orion and Ares programs (the next generation crew spacecraft and rockets), he stressed, "We're not going to have the engineers and scientists to continue space exploration if we don't have kids who are able to read, write and compute."
Perhaps now would be a good time to remind Sen. Obama of the sage and relevant words spoken by a president with whom he has been compared on occasion. On Sept. 12, 1962, at Rice University, President John F. Kennedy addressed the importance of the United States having a vibrant and preeminent space program. "…We mean to be part of it -- we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond…our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us…to become the world's leading spacefaring nation."
No matter who is our next president, he or she is either going to have to buy in completely to the premise of that young president, or stand aside and watch as other nations lay claim to the promise of space. There is no middle ground. John F. Kennedy understood it then, and the People's Republic of China, with its ambitious manned space program run by its military, understands it now. Preeminence in space translates to economic, scientific, educational and national security advantages.
With regard to the space shuttle, the International Space Station, Orion and Ares, the new president must make three words part of his or her space policy: "Stay the course." On Jan. 14, 2004, President George W. Bush announced a "new plan to explore space and extend a human presence across our solar system." With Orion and Ares as the centerpiece of this new direction, it is essential that that there be no delays caused by partisan politics.
If a Democrat is our next president, he or she cannot look at the Orion and Ares programs as a "Bush" or "Republican" initiative to be scrapped.
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