Sunday, February 3, 2008

Presidential leadership can propel U.S. space program

This year, the 50th anniversary of the launch of Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite, has seen leading candidates from both parties taking an early interest in space. In fact, it has been the earliest appearance of space in a presidential contest since the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election. The candidates have generally supported a balanced and robust space program, but there has been little discussion about what this actually means. NASA today is faced with great uncertainty, stemming from the retirement of the shuttle, to questions about access and utilization of the international space station. These unanswered issues are of vital concern for the United States and its international partners, and the U.S. will need to make serious choices about ending existing programs to prepare for the return to the moon. Given the rise of China, and now India, as major powers in space; the significance of civil space activity as an inspirational and diplomatic tool; the need for better satellite data to monitor the environment; and questions at home about technology, innovation and competiveness, space policy will be an issue the next administration will have to address with more than platitudes and gestures. The next administration should take advantage of this opportunity for U.S. leadership to reorient, reinvest and reinvigorate the space program to make it serve once again as a beacon of hope, optimism and scientific discovery for all, rather than as another battlefield.

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