Thursday, December 29, 2011

Presidential Space Race

Florida Today has a lengthy article by reporter James Dean on the 2012 presidential race and whether it will significantly affect federal space policy.

After the space shuttle’s retirement this year, frustration over the decline in the nation’s human spaceflight capability might leave President Barack Obama open to attack in the 2012 campaign.

But experts say the Republicans vying to replace Obama are unlikely to seek big changes to NASA’s post-shuttle transition, which relies on Russia to deliver U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station until the commercial sector is ready to take over the job.

Obama’s signature space policy shift — privatizing astronaut flights to the space station — is a conservative one, and tight NASA budgets in the coming years will limit flexibility to change course.

Congress cut by more than half in November the commercial crew development funding requested by the Obama administration for Fiscal Year 2012. NASA estimates this delayed the first operational crew flights to 2017.

The Republican majority in Congress cut the $850 million request to $300 million. The Senate majority cut the request to $512 million. During reconciliation, the two houses split the difference and authorized $406 million.

The Bush administration cancelled the Space Shuttle in 2004 after the Columbia accident.

Bush proposed a replacement that came to be known as Constellation, but Constellation failed due to cost overruns and lack of funding. When Constellation was cancelled by the Obama administration and Congress, its first Ares I flight wasn't going to be ready until 2017 — and was going to be funded by ending U.S. involvement in the International Space Station in 2015, meaning Ares I had nowhere to go.

The current administration's space policy saved the ISS and intended to accelerate a new Low Earth Orbit vehicle for operation by 2015. The recent budget cut by Congress put the U.S. back to the same 2017 time frame — but we'll still have the ISS.

UPDATE December 29, 2011 6:45 AM EST — The print version of this article just arrived here at home. It has a sidebar article attempting to compare the space policies of the various presidential candidates. The sidebar states:

Republican contenders for president have not posted specific space policies on their websites, and campaigns did not respond to a FLORIDA TODAY request to outline their positions.

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