Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois questioned the value of human spaceflight during a recent campaign stop, while the presumptive Republican nominee,
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said he temporarily would
freeze increases in domestic discretionary spending, a budget category that includes NASA.

Taking an audience question during an April 11 town hall meeting in Columbus, Ind., Obama said he was a “big supporter of the space program” but added that “it needs to be redefined, though.”


“We’ve kind of lost a sense of mission in terms of what it is that NASA should be trying to achieve and I think that we’ve got to make some big decisions about whether or not, are we going to try to send manned, you know, space launches, or are we better off in terms of what we’re learning sending unmanned probes which oftentimes are cheaper and less dangerous, but yield more information. And that’s a major debate I’m going to want to convene when I’m president of the United States,” Obama said, according to a transcript of the town hall meeting published in The Republic, the local newspaper. “What direction do we take the space program in? Once we have a sense of what’s going to be most valuable for us in terms of gaining knowledge, then I think we’ll be able to adjust the budget so that we’re going all out on what it is that we’ve decided to do.”


McCain, meanwhile, pledged April 15 that if he is elected, he would “order a prompt and thorough review of every federal program, department and agency. While that top-to-bottom review is under way, we will institute a one-year pause in discretionary spending increases with the necessary exemption of military spending and veterans benefits.”


McCain made his comments during a speech at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University laying out his economic plan.


Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, told a small gathering of space industry officials recently that she did not foresee Congress enacting a 2009 budget until March. If that turns out to be the case, then NASA would have to get by without an anticipated 2 percent raise for the first half of the new budget year, putting a crimp in its spending plans. NASA officials have warned that a continuing budget resolution of the sort it and virtually every other non-defense U.S. agency had to deal with in 2007 would delay the Orion and Ares 1 space shuttle replacement vehicles beyond their planned March 2015 debut date.


Comments: bberger@space.com