08/28/2012 12:27 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2012

Space Exploration - A Presidential Priority

Never let what is urgent crowd out what is most important. That's good advice for families, businesses and candidates for President of the United States. America's space exploration program is one of those truly important issues for our future, if not necessarily viewed as urgent in the current political election season.

America cannot afford to squander the opportunity to take full advantage of exploring the next great frontier: space. So it is time for the presidential candidates -- Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney -- to let America know where they really stand on an important issue that will transform -- or stagnate -- America in this century and the next. NASA needs presidential investment and advocacy -- and the budget to back it up. Nothing less than the future of our children and grandchildren is at stake here. Tell us about your vision which will nourish America's frontier spirit, her ambition and thirst for innovation which were the catalysts that opened the West, brought victory in World War II and reversed economic adversity in the last century

Thoughtful voters recognize that the current urgent issues facing NASA need to be resolved and they want to know how we will ensure America's future leadership, prosperity and security.

Jobs, health care and the balance between taxes and government spending are certainly important and urgent matters that dominate much of our national public policy discussion and debate. But history has shown that longer-term initiatives -- such as the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition, the transcontinental railroad, the Panama Canal and Interstate Highway system -- have had significant impact on our economy and our standing as a leader in world affairs. Each required presidential vision and leadership. Those earlier endeavors made America stronger, won global respect, and gave America's citizens greater reach. Doors opened, creating opportunity that brought new wealth and confidence in the future. Exactly the antidote to the malaise we're steeped in now.

The prospect of uncovering vast resources and astounding discoveries that can transform human life beckon us if we demonstrate our American heritage with the vision, hard work, and the will to explore. This next frontier has been touched only slightly by the explorers' footprints; and even more lightly by the entrepreneur's hand. Private businesses, which are the lifeblood of a sustainable enterprise, are inching forward to provide space operations support to the International Space Station and investigate commercial opportunities in space. But, as in the days of our western frontier, it will take government resources to explore the far reaches of the space frontier, even while commerce is growing at the near edge of the frontier.

America's space program in the 1960s depended on having the Moon as its signature destination for human exploration. After the 1960s, America's space program has been about building infrastructure without having a destination as its overriding goal. America needs a space program that combines infrastructure development which can sustain industry along with destination goals that will inspire the longer term investment. Armchair space policy causes divisive debates about which destination to pursue, which results in paralysis. The real destination goal for America's space program should encompass all of the potential destinations, with the priority and order set by the needs and capabilities of the developing infrastructure. This will not be a short-term, one administration, or one party goal, but neither was America's westward expansion over a century ago.

Exploration, discovery and the enthusiasm for the associated risks and demand for creative solutions are deeply rooted in the American character. When unleashed, these positive forces can assure a stronger, more vibrant future economy and provide opportunity for new personal prosperity when other urgent issues of this day are referenced only in dusty history books.