Friday, March 19, 2010
Nelson, Cabana Speak at Latest Space Forum
As a Congressman in January 1986, Bill Nelson flew aboard Columbia on a Shuttle mission.
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and KSC Director Bob Cabana were the guest speakers at today's Space Forum hosted by Florida Today at Brevard Community College.
Click here to read the paper's report on the forum.
I found this meeting far more sober and honest than the March 9 Space Forum, with four speakers who all had previously announced some degree of opposition to Obama and/or the Administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget.
Nelson, unfortunately, engaged in a bit of pandering just as have local Congressional representatives Suzanne Kosmas and Bill Posey, both of whom have promised additional Shuttle flights, a continuation of Constellation, and various other promises they can't unilaterally keep. Nelson said the Senate would direct NASA to develop a heavy-lifter rocket capable of flight beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The problem with that is one U.S. Senator cannot order NASA to do anything.
I was also disappointed that Nelson failed to directly answer a question from the audience about why little has been done over the last six years to help diversify the local economy after President Bush cancelled the Shuttle program in January 2004. Nelson instead gave a long answer about chronic underfunding for NASA, which has little to do with the lack of local leadership in attracting business not linked to the government's space program.
Nelson also said he was writing legislation that seems to try to force commercial launchers to use only Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, an idea proposed in a Florida Today editorial on March 11. Nelson admitted it's probably illegal but he's going ahead anyway, which suggests it's simply more pandering — not to mention anti-capitalistic.
The senator was asked several times for details about his recent meetings with Obama to discuss the NASA budget proposal. Although he didn't reveal many specifics of what was a private conversation, he did imply that Obama might be flexible on the budget, although he couldn't promise anything.
Obama is due in Florida on April 15 to hold his own space summit, presumably in the Space Coast although nothing has been officially announced. One thing is for certain is that he'll be expected to address his August 2008 campaign promise to ensure that "all those who work in the space industry in Florida do not lose their jobs when the Shuttle is retired because we cannot afford to lose their expertise."
I doubt anything Obama says on April 15 will satisfy the locals. Brevard County voted 54% to 44% for John McCain over Obama in 2008, and has 20,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats (42.9% to 37.2% of registered voters at the end of 2009).
But whatever action he takes should be for the good of the United States, not just for one county. I'm concerned that Kosmas, Posey and Nelson don't see it that way.
Of the three, I think Nelson's vision is broadest. He understands Obama's desire to commercialize LEO access so funds can be freed up to develop a heavy-lifter capable of extraterrestrial missions. Yet at the same time he talks about spending money on programs that may protect jobs while not necessarily being in the long-term best interest of the nation's human space program. Kosmas and Posey just talk about more of the status quo without addressing the core issue, namely that outside of the space centers there's little political support to spend more money on projects that are behind schedule, over budget and not viewed as a national priority.
At least Nelson today was somewhat honest about his Senate colleagues not sharing his view of human space exploration as a national priority. Neither Kosmas or Posey have admitted the same, to my knowledge.