While John McCain is an ardent advocate of expanding American exploration of space, and earlier this year released a point-by-point policy breakdown of what a McCain administration's space policy would look like, he wants to effectively kill NASA.
Arguably, his space policy outline was more comprehensive than anything we've seen from the campaign on, say, how he would handle Iraq, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, or rebuilding the American economy. Amongst other things, he would ensure the continuation of high level investment in space research and maintain American leadership in space, while banishing earmarks that apparently erode NASA's ability to actually fund and perpetuate its cause. But earmark's are not McCain's only arch-nemesis rearing it's ugly head when it comes to supporting and emboldening America's space exploration priorities:
This place was once no place, a secret military base northeast of Moscow that did not show up on maps. The Soviet Union trained its astronauts here to fight on the highest battlefield of the cold war: space.
Yet these days, Star City is the place for America's hard-won orbital partnership with Russia, where astronauts train to fly aboard Soyuz spacecraft. And in two years Star City will be the only place to send astronauts from any nation to the International Space Station.
The gap is coming: from 2010, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration shuts down the space shuttle program, to 2015, when the next generation of American spacecraft is scheduled to arrive, NASA expects to have no human flight capacity and will depend on Russia to get to the $100 billion station, buying seats on Soyuz craft as space tourists do.
Russia's space monopoly, and a surging Chinese presence beyond Earth's atmosphere, means the U.S. will have to rely on nations McCain's campaign has already deemed as "obviously not allies" in order to bridge the 5 year gap between the Space Shuttle program and the Constellation program. It's unclear how a President McCain would, in fact, maintain America dominance and presence in space while also throwing Russia out of the G8, and casually tossing around bellicose statements towards the only countries capable of sending people and large payloads into space. A President McCain could mean a comatose American space program, creating yet another area of science and technology where the U.S. falls behind. This would not only be dangerous to our national morale and international prestige, but severely put us behind from a strategic, economic, and global perspective as Russia and China would be able to leap light years ahead of our own space ambitions. In fact, the Russian/Georgia conflict almost already made this a reality. But the partnership plan with Russia was eventually rescued by Congress. It's extremely unclear if a similar result would have occurred under a more hard-line McCain administration. And McCain's view on this would be even more interesting as he is the former Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over our nation's space program. Oh, and a Vice President Palin would be the Chair of NASA's board.
The bottom line is McCain's sanguine view of space is contradicted by a reckless and misguided worldview which would put NASA in peril. And though nobody would peg their vote to the future of America's space program, voters seriously need to consider if it's worth it to go from "one giant leap for mankind" to a disastrous free fall for America's future in space.