John McCain: America's Space Program

Status Report From: McCain for President
Posted: Tuesday, August 12, 2008


"Let us now embark upon this great journey into the stars to find whatever may await us."

-John McCain

John McCain: 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 ultimate example of which was the U.S. victory over the Soviets in the race to the moon). Spurred on by the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik, the world's first satellite, and the concern that the U.S was falling behind in science and technology, U.S. policymakers enacted several policy actions to firmly establish the U.S. dominance in science and technology. Among them were the establishment of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the national Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), increased research funding, and a reformulation of the nation's science and technology education system.

Today, more than 50 years after Sputnik, the US faces a very different world. The end of the Cold War and the space race has greatly reduced the profile of space exploration as a point of national pride and an emblem of U.S. power and thus created some degree of "mission-rut" for NASA. At the same time, the scientific community views the use of space as an important observation platform for advancing science by increasing our understanding of the solar system and the universe. In addition, our recent comprehension of the Earth's changing climate is based on data that we have received from our weather and Earth observation satellites. Much of our communications infrastructure is dependent upon space based assets that are essential to the quality of our everyday lives and the economy.

China, Russia, India, Japan and Europe are all active players in space exploration. Both Japan and China launched robotic lunar orbiters in 2007. India is planning to launch a lunar orbiter later this year. The European Space Agency (ESA) is looking into a moon-lander, but is more focused on Mars. China also is actively pursuing a manned space program and, in 2003, became only the third country after the USSR and the US to demonstrate the capability to send man to space. China is developing plans for a manned lunar mission in the next decade and the establishment of a lunar base after 2020.

Activity within the commercial sector continues to increase beyond the traditional role of launching satellites. In 2007, the X-Prize Foundation announced a prize of $30 million in a global competition to build the first robotic rover capable of landing on the Moon. Several companies are planning to develop and build spacecraft for space tourism.

Senator McCain understands 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. Although the general view in the research community is that human exploration is not an efficient way to increase scientific discoveries given the expense and logistical limitations, the role of manned space flight goes well beyond the issue of scientific discovery and is reflection of national power and pride.

History provides some guide to this. In 1971, when the Nixon Administration was looking at canceling the Apollo program and not approving the development of the Space Shuttle - then Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Casper Weinberger stated that such a 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." 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.

John McCain has been involved in a number of efforts to improve America's scientific prowess within the space arena. As Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Senator McCain played a major role in legislation to provide funding for space exploration (manned and unmanned), space science, Earth science, and aeronautics research. He also sponsored legislation to support the up and coming commercial space industry, and led the Senate's efforts to implement improvements to NASA after the Columbia accident. Senator McCain has also spearheaded efforts to control costs at NASA and promote a space exploration agenda based on sound management, safe practices, and fiscal responsibility.

Current U.S. space operations policy commits the U.S. to completing the International Space Station (ISS) by 2010 and then terminating the Space Shuttle flights, with the completion of the ISS. The NASA vision for space exploration calls for sending a robotic lunar lander to the Moon in 2008/2009 time period to begin searching for potential base sites and for development and deployment of a new manned space craft for lunar missions. The current policy also calls for new vehicles (referred to as the Orion crew vehicle and the Ares launch vehicle) to be ready for Earth orbit by 2015 and lunar landing by 2020 with an eventual mission to Mars.

As President, John McCain will -

  • Ensure that space exploration is top priority and that the U.S. remains a leader;
  • Commit to funding the NASA Constellation program to ensure it has the resources it needs to begin a new era of human space exploration.
  • Review and explore all options to ensure U.S. access to space by minimizing the gap between the termination of the Space Shuttle and the availability of its replacement vehicle;
  • Ensure the national space workforce is maintained and fully utilized; Complete construction of the ISS National Laboratory;
  • Seek to maximize the research capability and commercialization possibilities of the ISS National Laboratory;
  • Maintain infrastructure investments in Earth-monitoring satellites and support systems;
  • Seek to maintain the nation's space infrastructure;
  • Prevent wasteful earmarks from diverting precious resources from critical scientific research;
  • and Ensure adequate investments in aeronautics research.

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