WASHINGTON -- One week before the U.S. elections, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is blasting President George W. Bush's space exploration vision as a "purely political stunt" that threatens to gut other NASA programs.
But Kerry's critique of Bush space policy is not likely to take center stage in the candidate's stump speeches between now and November 2. For now, at least, Kerry is airing his space views only on the Internet.
The one-page position paper, posted to the Kerry campaign's Web site Oct. 25, criticizes the Bush administration for putting forward a plan for sending humans to the moon and Mars without backing it up with the necessary funding. The Massachusetts Democrat said he would raise NASA's budget and focus the space agency on aeronautic and space research promising the greatest public benefit.
"Unfortunately, the Bush administration has undermined America's efforts to move forward on space and the next generation of innovative ideas," the Kerry paper reads. "The record budget deficits created by the Bush administration over the past four years will short change NASA and other research funding. The Bush administration's push for the moon/Mars mission is designed as a purely political stunt, without being backed up by the necessary funding. If we went forward with the Bush agenda, other NASA programs would be gutted."
Kerry and his running mate Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) promised to pursue "a more balanced space and aeronautics program" that treats human and robotic exploration as "one goal among several." The Democrats also promised to put a greater emphasis on aeronautics research, a NASA responsibility since the agency's creation but one that has been on the decline since well before Bush took office.
Bruce Mahone, the Arlington, Va.-based Aerospace Industries Association's assistant vice president for technical operations, said aeronautics spending at NASA -- which has been hovering just under $1 billion for years -- was dealt a tough blow when the Bush Administration required NASA to pay for all relevant overhead out of that budget. The move to what is known as full cost accounting, Mahone said, has cut roughly in half NASA's effective purchasing power for aeronautics research.
Kerry has made at least one other public overture to the U.S. aviation industry during this campaign. In the third and final presidential debate, Kerry said he would help Boeing compete against rival Airbus for commercial aircraft orders by insisting on "a fair trade playing field."
"This president didn't stand up for Boeing when Airbus was violating international rules and subsidies," Kerry charged during the Oct. 13 domestic policy debate. "He discovered Boeing during the course of this campaign after I'd been talking about it for months."
The Bush Administration filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization in early October accusing Europe of illegally subsidizing Airbus through government loans. The European Union responded by filing a complaint of its own, alleging that padded military contracts have helped Boeing defray the cost of developing the 7E7.
The Kerry-Edwards camp also is pledging to do more to engage international partners in space exploration planning efforts, to clean up NASA's financial management and increase the space agency's annual funding.
The position paper does not quantify the promised budget increase other than to say that it would be at least big enough to keep the space agency ahead of the eroding effects of inflation. The plan Bush unveiled in January calls for raising NASA's annual budget about $2.6 billion by 2008, and then provide mostly rate of inflation increases for the agency through 2020.
Kerry pledges to pay for a NASA budget increase, part of a broader $30 billion, 10-year investment in research, engineering and entrepreneurship, by accelerating the transition to digital television and auctioning off the freed up analog spectrum to wireless companies and other ventures.
The Federal Communications Commission recently postponed the deadline for television broadcasters to vacate the analog spectrum three years to Jan. 1, 2009 and is waiting for Congress to approve of the proposed date change. Industry analysts expect the freed up analog spectrum to fetch billions of dollars at auction.
Frank Sietzen, an aerospace journalist who has been representing the Bush-Cheney campaign on space matters, blasted the Kerry camp for not mentioning the space shuttle in the position paper and said it was a telling omission that should cause Kennedy Space Center employees to fear for their jobs under a Kerry administration.
"If I was a guy working in Florida, I'd say where's me?" Sietzen said. "It's just another gratuitous slap at the president."
Kerry campaign spokesman Jason Furman told Space News Oct. 26 that returning the shuttle to flight and completing the international space station [ISS] would be "two of NASA's top priorities under a Kerry administration."
Furman also said that a Kerry administration would not limit the role of the international space station to conducting research aimed at knocking down the barriers to human space exploration, but would pursue a broader research agenda.
"Under the current Bush space vision, research aboard ISS would be limited to only those programs that relate to human exploration," Furman said. "John Kerry believes that ISS has a much broader mission that involves furthering a variety of scientific and commercial activities that will provide benefits here on Earth as well as in space."