McCain promises NASA money

McCain promises NASA money

McCain promises NASA money

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Oct. 22 2008 11:00 AM

McCain promises NASA money

In a speech at Florida's "space coast" (the region near Cape Canveral and NASA's Kennedy Space Center), Presidential candidate John McCain said he would give NASA an extra $2 billion to fund the Shuttle-to-Constellation transition.

That's nice to hear. I'm pretty concerned over the next few years for NASA, and more money will help, though it cannot solve all the problems.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Advertisement

But I'm not jumping up and down with glee over this, for a couple of reasons. One is the reason McCain gave for the need to pump up NASA:

"My friends, we just saw the Chinese. We saw them in space," McCain told an afternoon rally of about 2,000 people. "We’ve got competition. We’ve got to stay ahead. We will be the first nation to Mars."

That is absolutely 100% the wrong reason to do this. It's not a competition! I mean , of course it is to some extent, but if we get in the same Cold War mindset that led to Apollo, in 15 years we'll be right back to where we are now: after an incredibly expensive race, all we'll have are flags and footprints on the Moon or Mars and no sustainable access to space. We have to do this the right way, make sure we maintain our ability to achieve orbit and beyond, and move from very expensive, rare launches to more common, less-expensive ones.

Racing the Chinese is a waste of money. Cooperating with them, cooperating with the other space-faring nations, means we all win.

Advertisement

And I'm not thrilled with a swipe McCain took at Senator Obama:

"I’ve always been a strong supporter of manned space flight and NASA," he said in a community that is home to many in the field. "If I’m elected president I won’t cut NASA funds like Sen. Obama." McCain aides noted that Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, had promised to pay for education programs by delaying the Constellation space program, which is meant to fill the gap to the next space vehicle, only to backtrack later.

Yes, Obama did say that... a year ago. Since then he has educated himself on the importance of what NASA does, and how it ties in with other aspects of government (international cooperation, our public face, and so on). Obama has said several times that he supports NASA, and in fact has also promised a similar amount of money to keep NASA going during the Shuttle/Constellation gap.

So McCain once again has said something that is at best misleading, and is better characterized as a lie.

And as an aside, as BABlogee Robin Ferguson pointed out to me, if McCain is elected, Sarah Palin is the titular head of NASA. Hmmmm. I'll add that we survived four years of Dan Quayle, so I suspect that NASA would somehow muddle through.

And while I am loathe to believe campaign trail promises, the good news to remember here is that both candidates appear to be supporting NASA. The realities of a recession and a massive national debt may change that, but if the President supports NASA that's better than the alternative.