Monday, January 07, 2008

What Barack Obama Needs To Change

While I consider myself an independent voter, my political leanings often lead me to vote for Democratic candidates. I said early on when Barack Obama appeared on the Presidential scene, I might vote for him. Indeed, like most American voters, I want big-time political change; and Barack was my favorite political candidate. But I can’t vote for him now; and I question whether he really is the candidate for change. It’s all due to his position concerning the American space program.

I’m not going to pretend I’m unbiased. As many of you know, I work for an American space program contractor in the Shuttle program; and what happens at NASA does have a direct impact on my livelihood. But even if that were not true, I’d feel the same way. It was my love and attraction to the program, misplaced or not, that has driven many of the things that have happened in my life. I also care about what happens to the program because I believe it does have both direct and indirect and positive impacts on the quality of life for the citizens of our country and the world as a major contributor to science, technology, and medicine. While I won’t pretend to believe the space program holds the key to human survival, it does portend to pay back dividends that mostly improve life as we know it.

Of all the current political candidates, Hillary Clinton has the best articulated, clearest, and most positive outlook on America’s manned space program’s future. While she has not stated her support for Constellation, she has shown she considers NASA’s programs worthy of continuance. Barack, on the other hand, has no firmly developed space policy and, in fact, has stated he would pay for educational programs he wishes to expand by delaying Constellation for five years. My first reaction to that was: Is he nuts? Such a move would devastate the agency and result in massive layoffs at a time in history when our other only manned spaceflight program is winding down, after which support for ISS is already in question and the US will be dependent on its sometime questionable Soviet partner, and spaceflight prowess from China is on the increase. But even more than that, his approach is the same old tired and easy-to-justify one used by the Democrats to gut NASA funding after the “race to the moon” had been won. How can he claim to be the candidate of change when he can’t think of anything new to do to increase both NASA and educational funding?

Moreover, his approach shows a total ignorance of the reality of the makeup of the Federal budget. NASA expenditures typically live in the 1% or less range of overall Federal expenditure. For 2008, NASA funding is estimated at 17.3 billion dollars while the Department of Education is slated to receive 56 billion dollars and the Department of Health and Human Services is to receive 69.3 billion dollars. The War in Iraq and Afghanistan (and only the latter is justifiable, in my opinion) will cost $141.7 billion dollars in this year alone. That is in addition to the $481.4 billion dollars being given to the Department of Defense for their “baseline” budget. The US Government’s total budget request is $2,902 billion dollars, making the NASA budget responsible for 0.596 percent of the total Federal expenditure.
This morning I watched as Senator Obama referred to the JFK decision to take the country to the moon as an example of American “can do” and as a vision of hope. How hypocritical to do so when his only vision of the future of the space program is to confine it to a bureaucratic bog! That will do nothing to inspire the best toil from American minds or offer our people the shining glimpse of the future that NASA sometimes represents?

If you’re really for change, Barack, a good place for you to start is there.