NASA and major policy issues
by Eric R. Hedman
|I believe the Clinton campaign put out a science policy and included a portion on NASA because, for the first time in a long time, NASA can be used to affect issues that a significant number of potential voters are paying at least some attention to.|
Hillary Clinton followed up on this policy the same day by co-sponsoring a measure in the US Senate for an extra $1 billion for NASA’s budget. Despite that, a policy statement like this is still no guarantee for significant funding increases that will make it easier to carry out the missions given to NASA. Nonetheless, it’s still a step up from the 2004 campaign, when John Kerry’s best-publicized associated with NASA was the infamous “bunnysuit” photos taken of him during a visit to the Kennedy Space Center. Kerry never did say what he wanted to do with NASA if elected. I doubt if he had ever even thought about it.
Hillary Clinton’s space policy may be a chance to force other candidates to say what they would do. The latest polls have her building a steadily bigger lead over her numerous Democratic rivals. Other candidates may be more receptive to answering questions or putting out a few-sentence policy statement if they know the frontrunner already has.
I believe the Clinton campaign put out a science policy and included a portion on NASA because, for the first time in a long time, NASA can be used to affect issues that a significant number of potential voters are paying at least some attention to. The biggest of these issues include climate change, relations with China and India, US economic and technological competitiveness, science and math education, and possibly even space-based solar power.
According to a recent report, the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States has dropped to levels last seen in the 1950s. In my work I deal almost exclusively with manufacturers. I see which ones are disappearing, which ones are opening plants in China and other low-wage countries, and which ones are thriving by manufacturing in the US. The companies that I see that are disappearing are the ones that either were very slow to incorporate new technology in their operations or had the market for their products vanish when new technologies emerged and they were unable to adapt. I see companies that are moving their factories overseas because their markets are overseas, they don’t know how to incorporate the latest technologies to remain competitive, or the have a labor intensive product that just makes sense to manufacture in a low-wage country.
The companies that I see that are keeping their manufacturing in the US and thriving are doing so because they are steadily improving all aspects of their business with innovations. They are continuously improving their product designs, engineering techniques, and engineering tools. They are incorporating designs that are easier to manufacture. They are adding new production technology on the shop floor. In other words, the companies that are growing manufacturing in the US are evolving rapidly to stay on top of the economic food chain.
|NASA is in a position to take action that will affect what are now major issues in the current presidential campaign. I think Hillary Clinton has given the space advocacy community the ammunition to pressure the other candidates for an answer.|
NASA has helped a number of industries stay competitive. NASA’s aeronautics research has helped our aerospace industry stay ahead of companies like Airbus that are heavily subsidized by foreign governments. The European Union is now preparing to select and fund aeronautics research projects in the manner NASA has done. This nation cannot afford to abandon aeronautics research that has been part of the remarkably continually improving safety record of our airlines and helped keep our trade deficit from becoming worse. It would be like a farmer eating his seed corn. With the long time for payback from some cutting-edge research, publicly traded corporations with the pressure from stockholders for every quarter to be better than the last cannot always fund this research internally. NASA’s aeronautics research is in the public interest when it helps maintain our safety and our economic competitiveness.
For those of us old enough to remember the Apollo program and watched spellbound as astronauts hopped along on the surface of the Moon, the can-do “failure is not an option” attitude is in our collective consciousness. I think much of the country, whether they pay much attention to NASA or not, does understand that most of what NASA does is incredibly difficult and outright amazing. They understand that NASA employees are some of the most gifted people in the country. That is why the mainstream media comes to NASA for information on climate change, not to mention other areas of their expertise.
Understanding the rest of the universe helps us understand our own planet. Science is a bit more challenging when you use a sample of one for a study. Understanding the rest of our solar system and the universe helps us understand this planet. Understanding whether cosmic rays pass that into our solar system from interstellar space trigger the cascade of a lightning strike in thunderstorms may help us improve weather forecasting. Understanding how the solar wind interacts with a comet helps us to understand how it interacts with our atmosphere and magnetic fields and possibly affects our weather. In a world where population growth, competition for resources, and human impact on our environment are major issues, NASA’s work to understand what is going on can no longer be a fringe issue that doesn’t matter to the rest of the country.
NASA is in a position to take action that will affect what are now major issues in the current presidential campaign. I think Hillary Clinton has given the space advocacy community the ammunition to pressure the other candidates for an answer. If any of you get the chance to ask a candidate I suggest that you do. My suggestion for the wording of the question is as follows: Considering that the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has deemed the issue important enough to issue a science policy statement that includes strongly worded support for human space exploration, robotic space exploration, aeronautics research, and space-based study of the Earth, do you have a policy that you’d like to pursue and what is it?
NASA needs more money to carry out the important missions that have been assigned to the agency. If the House agrees with the extra billion approved by the Senate and the President signs it, it will be a good start. We have one candidate that has gone on the record with what her space policy is. We need the rest to do so. I try never to be a one-issue voter and hope to keep it that way for the next election. I do think, though, that a policy on science and space exploration may give a clue to if a candidate understands how much the activities of all the departments and agencies of the federal government impact our lives. It is important that each agency has a clear vision and mission that comes down from the top. Collectively these agencies spend an incredible amount of money that will be to a great extent wasted if a vision and mission are not clearly stated and effectively executed.