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Fact Sheet: Obama’s New White House National Space Policy June 28, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in cooperation, National Space Policy, Obama, private sector.
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President Obama’s new Space Policy document for the White House has just been released!

“In a world where the benefits of space permeate almost every facet of our lives, irresponsible acts in space can have damaging consequences for all of us. As such, all nations have a responsibility to act to preserve the right of all future generations to use and explore space. The United States is committed to addressing the challenges of responsible behavior in space, and commits further to a pledge of cooperation…” – National Space Policy Fact Sheet

Here’s the PDF of the full 18-page policy, and a rundown below of the fact sheet‘s bullet points with my brief commentary:

“Key Elements of the Administration’s National Space Policy

  • The United States remains committed to many long-standing tenets in space activities. The United States recognizes the rights of all nations to access, use, and explore space for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity.

“Benefit of all humanity” is similar to language in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

  • The United States calls on all nations to share its commitment to act responsibly in space to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust. The United States will take steps to improve public awareness of government space activities and enable others to share in the benefits of space through conduct that emphasizes openness and transparency.

Key there is probably ‘mishaps’: disasters in space are obviously expensive, and so the risk getting out of control would be a roadblock to increased access to space (as the risk could become too great for anyone to want to undertake) and in turn, to future private industry (economic) growth.

  • The United States will engage in expanded international cooperation in space activities. The United States will pursue cooperative activities to the greatest extent practicable in areas including: space science and exploration; Earth observations, climate change research, and the sharing of environmental data; disaster mitigation and relief; and space surveillance for debris monitoring and awareness.
  • The United States is committed to a robust and competitive industrial base. In support of its critical domestic aerospace industry, the U.S. government will use commercial space products and services in fulfilling governmental needs, invest in new and advanced technologies and concepts, and use a broad array of partnerships with industry to promote innovation. The U.S. government will actively promote the purchase and use of U.S. commercial space goods and services within international cooperative agreements.

“Actively promote” the purchase of U.S. commercial services internationally. A logical, if significant step.

  • The United States recognizes the need for stability in the space environment. The United States will pursue bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence building measures to encourage responsible actions in space, and will consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies. In addition, the United States will enhance its space situational awareness capabilities and will cooperate with foreign nations and industry to augment our shared awareness in space.

Arms control “if” it is “equitable, effectively verifiable” and enhances U.S. national security. That’s a big “If” :)

  • The United States will advance a bold new approach to space exploration. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will engage in a program of human and robotic exploration of the solar system, develop new and transformative technologies for more affordable human exploration beyond the Earth, seek partnerships with the private sector to enable commercial spaceflight capabilities for the transport of crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station, and begin human missions to new destinations by 2025.

The 2025 date Obama mentioned in his April speech pops up again, presumably for an asteroid mission. “New destinations”.

  • The United States remains committed to the use of space systems in support of its national and homeland security. The United States will invest in space situational awareness capabilities and launch vehicle technologies; develop the means to assure mission essential functions enabled by space; enhance our ability to identify and characterize threats; and deter, defend, and if necessary, defeat efforts to interfere with or attack U.S. or allied space systems.

Identifying threats/debris comes up repeatedly in this fact sheet; appears to be a tenet of Obama’s planned international cooperation.

  • The United States will fully utilize space systems, and the information and applications derived from those systems, to study, monitor, and support responses to global climate change and natural disasters. The United States will accelerate the development of satellites to observe and study the Earth’s environment, and conduct research programs to study the Earth’s lands, oceans, and atmosphere.

This fact sheet from the White House covers the important points from the full policy document [PDF]—I’m going to have a look at that and see what I can wean from there :)

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NASA Chief Mike Griffin’s Interesting 50th Anniversary Comments October 8, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in Apollo, Constellation, cooperation, Fusion Power, Helium-3, McCain, NASA, Obama, Space Shuttle.
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Recently, Michael Griffin (Administrator, a.k.a the chief, of NASA) made some interesting comments to the Agency France-Presse (AFP) when discussing the 50th anniversary of NASA and NASA’s current state:

“[Christopher Columbus] travelled for months and spent a few weeks in the Americas and returned home. He could hardly have said to have explored the New World. So we have just begun to touch other worlds.”

-Mike Griffin, referring to Apollo 11‘s first walk on the Moon

Mr. Griffin went on to talk about how the explorers of the 15th century set out not knowing exactly what they’d find, and what value it would have. Griffin stated, “We can’t prove today that we can exploit what we find to the benefit of humankind”, though personally I beg to differ (and so do others more significant than me).

Griffin also expresses support for international cooperation, a subject that was a key contrast between the Obama and McCain space plans (with Obama’s plan mentioning it often and McCain’s plan never mentioning it).

“The space station is much bigger and better and more impressive and more productive as a result of the partnership with Canada, Russia, Europe, and Japan, than it would have been if we had done it ourselves.”
-Mike Griffin

For some more interesting Mike Griffin interviews, check out this Popular Mechanics ’10 tough questions’ from 2007, and a Space.com grilling from about a month ago on the space shuttle program, changes to it, and the potential impact of that on Constellation. Seems like Mr. Griffin gets some tough gigs with these interviews, haha.

(Note: I think that 8.8mb portrait from NASA of Mr. Griffin is one of the largest images I have ever seen uploaded to the internet.)

A Look at John McCain’s Space Plan August 29, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in Apollo, cooperation, Google Lunar X Prize, McCain, Obama, space tourism.
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After recently taking a look at Barack Obama‘s detailed space plan, it’s now time to sit down and take a gander at his counterpart John McCain‘s own plan for our spacefaring future.

While McCain’s plan is only about a third of the length of Obama’s (989 words to 3,486), there’s still enough information and context that can be discerned from it to give an idea of what a McCain administration’s space policy could shape up to be like.

  • Batting leadoff is this first-sentence statement : “For the past 50 years, space activities have contributed greatly to US scientific discovery, national security, economic development, and national innovation, pride and power.” The placement of “national security” second on that list is notable, and not a surprise given McCain’s military background.
  • The plan goes on to briefly discuss Sputnik, the reaction to it, and how that led to a dominance in American science and technology, noting: “The end of the Cold War and the space race has greatly reduced the profile of space exploration as a point of national pride…”, creating a “degree of ‘mission-rut'” for NASA.
  • After noting “Much of our communications infrastructure is dependent upon space based assets that are essential to the quality of our everyday lives and the economy”, the report goes on to detail how China, Russia, India, Japan and Europe are all “active players” in space exploration.
  • McCain then writes briefly about the increasing activity in the commerical sector and mentions the Google Lunar X Prize and space tourism, specifically noting the “importance of investments in key industries such as space to the future of our national security, environmental sustainability, economic competitiveness, and national pride as a technological leader”; again, a distinct foreign policy lean with national security being first on the list and “competitiveness” and “pride” being in there also.
  • An entire paragraph is devoted to discussion of the following quote regarding the Nixon administration’s mulling of the cancellation of Apollo and non-approval of the Space Shuttle:

“[That policy] …would be confirming in some respects a belief that I fear is gaining credence at home and abroad: That our best years are behind us, that we are turning inward, reducing our defense commitments, and voluntarily starting to give up our super-power status and our desire to maintain world superiority.”

Casper Weinberger, Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director, 1971

  • McCain then states, rather significantly, that “Three and a half decades later this seems equally valid, if not more so given the increased number of countries that are making significant investments in space.”

The report then concludes with a little on McCain’s contributions to the space program as a Senator and on NASA’s current policies and projects.

McCain’s last statement about Weinberger’s quote, combined with the foreign policy leaning of the plan, clearly illustrates that McCain sees Constellation and the rest of NASA’s programs as key to American international standing, prestige, and competitiveness.

This is somewhat of a contrast to Obama’s plan, which has a focus that is notably more domestic, primarily discussing the private sector. A perhaps even more notable contrast is that while Obama’s plan discusses international cooperation quite a bit, it is something that is not mentioned a single time in McCain’s plan.

The differences in the two plans are fascinating, and more than I would have expected, illustrating that this is definitely a subject that both candidates take very seriously, and that they both have their own distinctive styles towards handling.

Picture of the Week: What Ocean? August 16, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in cooperation, European Space Agency, NASA.
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The above is a picture of two ESA astronauts, André Kuipers and Frank de Winne, training underwater at a Houston NASA facility. The ESA is actively recruiting astronauts as it explores its Moon mission options, with cooperation (like the training above) and more concrete indications of plans to work together on the moon becoming more and more common as of late.

Russian/European Joint, Manned Spacecraft Design Unveiled (News) July 24, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in Ares I, Ares V, cooperation, Current News, European Space Agency, Orion (craft), RKK Energia, Roscosmos.
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The replacement for the oft-used Russian Soyuz craft was unveiled today, and it is a joint project by the European Space Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency(Roscosmos):

Designed by Russian space firm RKK Energia, this is a craft planned to be used for lunar missions, effectively being the counterpart to NASA’s Ares/Orion lunar-mission tag team (which I profiled briefly here at Luna C/I back in May). In NASA’s case, the Ares is the launch module and the Orion the manned portion; this new craft is a manned craft, with the launch vehicle undetermined and (as noted in the linked BBC news article) possibly being either an entirely new vehicle or a modified existing Russian rocket.

The Russian-European plans to collaborate are not a set-in-stone agreement, and so the ESA does have a backup plan to continue should the partnership with Roscosmos fall through. Still, it’s promising to see signs of this sort of high-level collaboration working, as opposed to, say, tense and outright competition that could lead to cynical (perhaps silly?) ‘war in space’ scenarios. In my view, if there’s a time for humanity to start moving on from the more petty social-geopolitical problems of Earth, this is it. Do we really need to go start churning out terms like “lunapolitical conflict”?

But, for the time being, we have developments like this tentative Euro-Russian agreement (and other cooperation efforts) to nudge things towards what I see, at least for now, as a positive direction.