“We have watched with dismay as President Obama dismantled the structure that was guiding both the government and commercial space sectors, while providing no purpose or vision or mission,” the Romney advisers wrote in a joint letter in January. “This failure of leadership has thrust the space program into disarray and triggered a dangerous erosion of our technical workforce and capabilities.”
Garver, who ran NASA's policy shop under President Bill Clinton and played a key role in setting Obama's space policy, addressed the Republican charge in a Sept. 11 California speech.
“Nothing could be further from the truth, and those who perpetuate that myth only hurt our entire industry—and undermine our nation's goals, at this critical time, period,” she says. “The truth is we have an ambitious series of deep-space destinations we plan to explore, and are hard at work developing the hardware—and the technologies—to get us there.”
The Obama campaign issued a list of administration accomplishments along those lines in Florida, where the loss of jobs at Kennedy Space Center with the retirement of the shuttle and the scuttling of the “unsustainable” Constellation program is a threat to the president's reelection support in the critical “I-4 corridor” across the middle of the state. Included were the addition of two space shuttle flights, extending International Space Station funding from 2015 until 2020, and “supporting development of the next-generation space vehicle.” All are steps that eased the jobs impact in Florida.
Also listed: starting a commercial human spaceflight industry and—citing the landing in August of the Curiosity Mars rover—“continued investments in deep-space exploration.”
“We're successfully undertaking missions that other nations can only dream about, unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit of American industry to do what it does best and investing in game-changing technology that will revolutionize space travel and life on Earth,” Garver said in her speech on Sept. 11. “The best days of our space program are ahead of us. And have no doubt; America's space program is better off than it was four years ago.”
Certainly the Obama campaign's commercial human spaceflight claim is valid (AW&ST Oct. 1, p. 38). The rest of the claims also are true on the surface. But it is a stretch for Obama to take credit for the heavy-lift Space Launch System, which was forced on him by Congress and is sometimes referred to as the “Senate Launch System” by its critics. Indeed, Bolden credited Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) with forcing Jacob Lew, Obama's then-budget director, to clear the way for work on the SLS to begin (AW&ST Sept. 19, 2011, p. 47).
And planetary scientists in the U.S. are still struggling to understand why the administration dropped top-level funding for their key priority—a Mars sample-return mission—after NASA spent three years planning a series of joint missions with the European Space Agency to spread the expense (AW&ST Oct. 1, p. 36).
In its own white paper issued Sept. 22, the Romney space-advisory team promised “clearer priorities” for NASA, with “a balance of pragmatic and top-priority science with inspirational and groundbreaking exploration,” but stressed that “strong and successful NASA does not require more funding.”