The U.S. Election Preview article “NASA Budget Fundamentals Supercede Campaign Rhetoric” [Oct. 15, page 11] says Republican candidate Mitt Romney has “offered qualified support for [President Barack] Obama’s commercial spaceflight strategy.” In reality this is not an Obama idea; it was an ongoing program the president didn’t cancel like he did many others, but added money and called it “bold” and “new.”
Obama’s space white papers claim credit for the Curiosity Mars rover, international space station research and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, all programs preceding his administration or surviving due to congressional intervention. The president, in answering online questions for a science website, left several items blank regarding science and technology and space exploration, thereby showing lackluster focus concerning the strategic nature and importance of space competitiveness to American power, influence and prosperity. Romney’s responses were more complete.
Romney’s white paper articulates that he does understand that space is not “optional” but vitally integrated into our way of life and our foreign policy. He understands the need for commercial space and wants to grow commercial space to stand on its own as part of a vision for “space commerce” and not merely public-private partnerships with government as the sole customer. Romney’s white paper discusses the importance of having a clear vision and strategy and that while funding is important, it’s not the total measure of success or what is most needed in America’s space sectors.
This was backed up clearly in the 2012 Futron Space Competitiveness Index that looked at all space sectors globally in policy/strategy, economics and human capital. It reported that the United States is the only nation that has declined in space competitiveness for five years straight, despite the largest space budgets in the world. The only spacefaring nation to gain a competitive edge the last four years is China. Space has to be infused in our national security, diplomatic and economic strategies, and Romney’s white paper indicates he understands this.
Since reaching a peak in employment numbers in 2008, the year before Obama took office, the U.S. satellite industry has lost over 21,877 jobs. Department of Defense space program spending (overall) was cut by 23.64 percent in recent budgets. In space commerce and trade, our space-related exports were down 15.7 percent in 2011 from the previous year, and our rocket/launch vehicle-related exports were down 13.6 percent.
America’s space program is not “better off than four years ago” and neither is the space industry. We need a real, consistent strategy. We need to regain the initiative and our competitive edge in space.
The views expressed are those of the author and not those of his employer.