Space Empires

I just can’t get my feet back on the ground today. After talking about extrasolar planets and Battlestar Galactia, now I read over at DefenseTech an upsetting post by Theresa Hitchens and Haninah Levine about the new National Space Policy.

After four years and some 35 drafts, the Bush White House has finally released its long-awaited rewrite of the U.S. National Space Policy. Obviously, the administration was keen to get the word out – they quietly posted a 10-page unclassified summary on the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s website at 5 pm on Oct. 6 – the Friday before the Columbus Day long weekend.

Hmm. Maybe not.

When asked about the document, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow replied: “What, this old thing? Just something we inherited from our Uncle Bill.” Well, not literally, of course. But in a further indication that the administration intends to downplay the significance of the document, insiders have been characterizing the new NSP as “nothing new,” just a variation on the themes set by the Clinton administration in the last NSP.

The authors go on to describe the change from a document centered on peaceful space exploration in the interests of science and business to a document that reads more like a declaration from the DoD. The document is not something inherited from ‘Uncle Bill.’ I would argue Uncle Dick and Uncle Don had more to do with it. After spending a couple of minutes reading the 20 pages, 10 from Clinton and 10 from Bush the changes in this document aren’t minor, they are startling.


For over three decades, the United States has led the world in the exploration and use of outer space. Our achievements in space have inspired a generation of Americans and people throughout the world. We will maintain this leadership role by supporting a strong, stable, and balanced national space program that serves our goals in national security, foreign policy, economic growth, environmental stewardship, and scientific and technical excellence. Access to and use of space are central for preserving peace and protecting U.S. national security as well as civil and commercial interests. The United States will pursue greater levels of partnership and cooperation in national and international space activities and work with other nations to ensure the continued exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. [my emphasis]

The goals of the U.S. space program are to:
(a) Enhance knowledge of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe through human and  robotic exploration;
(b) Strengthen and maintain the national security of the United States;
(c) Enhance the economic competitiveness and scientific and technical capabilities of the United States;
(d) Encourage State, local, and private sector investment in, and use of, space technologies;
(e) Promote international cooperation to further U.S. domestic, national security, and foreign policies.


For five decades, the United States has led the world in space exploration and use and has developed a solid civil, commercial, and national security space foundation. Space activities have improved life in the United States and around the world, enhancing security, protecting lives and the environment, speeding information flow, serving as an engine for economic growth, and revolutionizing the way people view their place in the world and the cosmos. Space has become a place that is increasingly used by a host of nations, consortia, businesses, and entrepreneurs.

In this new century, those who effectively utilize space will enjoy added prosperity and security and will hold a substantial advantage over those who do not. Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power. In order to increase knowledge, discovery, economic prosperity, and to enhance the national security, the United States must have robust, effective, and efficient space capabilities. [my emphasis]

I highlighted what I consider to be the major difference here. In the old document, the US was trying to build partnerships and cooperate with other governments; the emphasis on national security, while present, wasn’t central. Now, not only is defense the number one issue but the new version reads as if the US were alone in a sea of space sharks.

Anyway, comparing the air and sea power to space flight is just so 60’s. But then again, Bush’s stance toward manned spaceflight, to the Moon, Mars and beyond (just no more money), sounds more like Kennedy and not what serious scientists would like. Even though the International Space Station still isn’t finished and the Shuttle has just about reached the end of it’s lifetime, Bush wants NASA to reorient towards putting a person on Mars. The Mars Rovers  are still producing excellent data (Yeah! Go Rovers!) but NASA is being forced to cut costs on unmanned missions. You couldn’t extend a manned mission by a factor of 10 like the unmanned rovers. This illustrates the difference between reality and politics.

But there is perhaps no better illustration of the differences between the two administration’s approaches to space science than the DSCOVR satellite. As featured in last months Seed, DSCOVR is a satellite designed to monitor the earth’s albedo, the amount of energy reflected back into space. This is a very important value necessary for studying the climatology and the greenhouse effect. This satellite was designed and built during the Clinton administration after the idea was proposed by Al Gore. Thus it’s pejorative ‘GoreSat’ by global warming deniers. It was competed and is now mothballed because the Bush administration refuses to let it be launched. (Even though the Russians offered to launch it for free.) This is the administration’s devotion to peaceful use of space technology.

I’m starting to wonder just how funny all those Darth Vader/Dick Cheney references on The Daily Show really are.

But wait! If Dick Cheney is Darth Vader, who is the evil emperor?

1 comment so far

  1. […] If you didn’t read my early post or the original by Theresa Hitchens, director of the Center for Defense Information, and Haninah Levine, a CDI science fellow please do so. The information is much more compact. Hitchens has an excellent opinion and makes her living watching the government. […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: