No matter who is elected president of the United States on November 6, there are bound to be new cuts to next year's federal budget. The question is whether they will be really really big or just sort of big. Congress can avoid the really, really big (and semi-random) cuts during its lame-duck session between the election and the New Year if it negotiates a path away from the so-called "fiscal cliff" that is anticipated in early January. That's when certain automatic tax increases and spending cuts are scheduled to take place. But there is no doubt that, at the very least, plain old cuts in spending are on their way.
Both Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama appear to consider the U.S. space program a prime target for cuts. Back in February, the President proposed a budget to Congress that decreased NASA's overall budget by $59 million, to $17.7 billion, for example. And Governor Romney wrote the following in September in his response to the Top American Science Questions, which were developed by ScienceDebate.org: "A strong and successful NASA does not require more funding, it needs clearer priorities."
As part of Scientific American's weekly closer look at science issues raised by ScienceDebate in this election, here is question #12 on space and the candidates' answers:
Question 12. Space. The United States is currently in a major discussion over our national goals in space. What should America's space exploration and utilization goals be in the 21st century and what steps should the government take to help achieve them?
Mitt Romney's Response:
The mission of the U.S. space program is to spur innovation through exploration of the heavens, inspire future generations, and protect our citizens and allies.
• Space is crucial to technological innovation. If we want to have a scientifically trained and competent workforce, we must demonstrate a long-term commitment to the pursuit of innovation and knowledge.
• Space is crucial to the global economy. From agriculture to air transportation, from natural resource management to financial management, it is almost impossible to imagine a world without the space capabilities we have today.
• Space is crucial to national security. U.S. and allied space capabilities provide a source of strategic advantage to military and intelligence functions that has no parallel.
• Space is crucial to America’s international standing. Independent access to space, the launch of satellites, and the travel of citizens to and from space continue to be seen as major technical achievements that convey not only America’s military and economic power, but also the power of American values. The success of private sector enterprises in achieving these objectives opens a new chapter in American leadership.
America has enjoyed a half-century of leadership in space, but now that leadership is eroding despite the hard work of American industry and government personnel. The current purpose and goals of the American space program are difficult to determine. With clear, decisive, and steadfast leadership, space can once again be an engine of technology and commerce. It can help to strengthen America’s entrepreneurial spirit and commercial competitiveness, launch new industries and new technologies, protect our security interests, and increase our knowledge.
Rebuilding NASA, restoring U.S. leadership, and creating new opportunities for space commerce will be hard work, but I will strive to rebuild an institution worthy of our aspirations and capable once again leading the world toward new frontiers. I will bring together all the stakeholders – from NASA and other civil agencies, from the full range of national security institutions, from our leading universities, and from commercial enterprises – to set goals, identify missions, and define the pathway forward.
Focusing NASA. A strong and successful NASA does not require more funding, it needs clearer priorities. I will ensure that NASA has practical and sustainable missions. There will be a balance of pragmatic and top-priority science with inspirational and groundbreaking exploration programs.
Partnering Internationally. Part of leadership is also engaging and working with our allies and the international community. I will be clear about the nation’s space objectives and will invite friends and allies to cooperate with America in achieving mutually beneficial goals.
Strengthening Security. Space-based information capabilities are the central nervous system of the U.S. national security community. If America is to remain strong as a nation, the national security space programs must remain strong and sustainable. I am committed to a robust national security space program and I will direct the development of capabilities that defend and increase the resilience of space assets. I will also direct the development of capabilities that will deter adversaries seeking to damage or destroy the space capabilities of the U.S. and its allies.
Revitalizing Industry. A strong aerospace industry must be able to compete for and win business in foreign markets. I will work to ease trade limitations, as appropriate, on foreign sales of U.S. space goods and will work to expand access to new markets.
Barack Obama's Response:
We’re fortunate to be part of a society that can reach beyond our planet and explore frontiers that were only imagined by our ancestors. I am committed to protecting these critical investments in science and technology and pursuing an ambitious new direction for NASA that lays the groundwork for a sustainable program of exploration and innovation.
We have extended the life of the International Space Station, forwarding efforts to foster international cooperation in space, supporting the growth of America’s commercial space industry, and taking on our pressing scientific challenges while continuing the nation’s commitment to robust human space exploration, science, and aeronautics programs.
From investing in research on advances in spaceflight technology, to expanding our commitment to an education system that prepares our students for space and science achievements, I am committed to strengthening the base for America’s next generation of spaceflight. No other country can match our capabilities in Earth observation from space. In robotic space exploration, too, nobody else comes close. And I intend to keep it that way.
Two years ago I set a goal of sending humans farther into space than we have ever been -- to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s. We will continue to operate the Space Station until at least 2020 and perhaps beyond. When our Orion deep space crew vehicle takes its first test flight in 2014, it will travel farther into space than any spacecraft designed for humans has flown in the 40 years since our astronauts returned from the moon. That is progress.
The recent landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars was a great leadership moment for our nation and a sign of the continued strength of NASA’s many programs in science, aeronautics and human spaceflight. It’s also important to remember that the $2.5 billion investment made in this project was not spent on Mars, but right here on Earth, supporting more than 7,000 jobs in at least 31 states.
My administration has put a big focus on improving science and technology, engineering and math education. And this is the kind of thing that inspires kids across the country. They’re telling their moms and dads they want to be part of a Mars mission -- maybe even the first person to walk on Mars. That’s inspiring.
This exciting work will lead us to important new discoveries and take us to destinations we would have never visited.