Obama’s Space Plans: A Study In Incoherence

Sen. Obama has released his plan for space exploration. As a case study, it demonstrates the lack of coherence or policy judgment that has marked the Obama campaign. Space policy expect Rand Simberg has a detailed analysis of Obama’s space plan and finds it lacking.

For example, Obama’s campaign can’t seem to make up its mind about NASA’s COTS program:

Obama will stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate spaceflight capabilities. NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services is a good model of government/industry collaboration.

Which is all well and good, until one reads further down. Then Obama’s space plan says the opposite:

Obama will evaluate whether the private sector can safely and effectively fulfill some of NASA’s need for lower earth orbit cargo transport.

So, COTS is a “good model,” but Obama plans to “evaluate” it anyway. It’s the sort of muddleheaded stuff that Obama has been giving the electorate in just about every field. Simberg notes that this is a document clearly written by committee, and it’s hard to disagree with that sentiment.

Simberg notes something else disturbing about the Obama campaign’s attitude towards ideas not their own:

This part struck me (and didn’t surprise me):

Lori Garver, an Obama policy adviser, said last week during a space debate in Colorado that Obama and his staff first thought that the push to go to the moon was “a Bush program and didn’t make a lot of sense.” But after hearing from people in both the space and education communities, “they recognized the importance of space.” Now, she said, Obama truly supports space exploration as an issue and not just as a tool to win votes in Florida.

I’m not sure that Lori helped the campaign here. What does that tell us about the quality and cynicism of policy making in the Obama camp? They opposed it before they were for it because it was George Bush’s idea? And does that mean that space policy was just about votes in Florida before this new policy? I know that there are a lot of BDS sufferers who oppose VSE for this reason, and this reason alone, but it’s a little disturbing that such (non)thinking was actually driving policy in a major presidential campaign.

Sadly, I think that’s exactly how the Obama camp thinks—or more accurately doesn’t think. Obama is not a dumb person, not by a longshot. But he doesn’t have a wide grasp of policy. He has an incisive legal mind, but when it comes to issues like taxes, foreign policy, trade, and other major issues, he’s utterly reliant on a cadre of advisors. That is not healthy for a President. A President needs good advisors, to be sure, but ultimately the job of President is the world’s toughest management job. Nothing in this document or anything else that Obama has done suggests that he has the management skills to be an effective President. A country can’t be lead by committee, it needs someone to provide leadership and direction. At least as far as space policy is concerned, Obama shows little leadership or direction.

To be fair, that doesn’t mean that Obama’s space plan is all bad. He says some of the right things. But he also is against the “weaponization” of space—something which has already begun and requires more than the typical feckless diplomatic overtures to contain. He is for more international cooperation in space—which is all well and good except that tensions with Russia already could cripple us. He’s for accelerating the timeline for the Shuttle replacement—which is an absolute necessity.

What would a truly bold space policy be? How about a government sponsored X-Prize to truly foster space exploration? A policy that ditches the overcomplicated Ares/Contellation program and goes with the better-designed DIRECT 2.0 launch system?

Obama says the right things, especially with the idea of having a better connection between the Oval Office and NASA and other interested parties. The problem is that Obama clearly hasn’t thought his space policy through enough to come to any clear policy conclusions. Even where he says the right things, there’s no guarantee that he’ll really enact them. A document drafted by committee is not the same as a bold policy, and when it comes to the future of humanity’s exploration of space, Obama gives us precious little change that anyone can truly believe in.