Part II of the Netroots Nation panel on Progressive NASA on 7/18/08…
I met with 15 other people in Austin on July 18th to conduct an Obama for President Space Policy Platform meeting, right after our Space Policy panel at Netroots Nation Convention. Our crew included Netroots activists, aerospace enthusiasts from the Austin area, and even former NASA officials. After several hours of debate, and dozens of follow-up emails among the group, we honed in on three space policy platform planks for the DNC / Barack Obama Campaign.
While there was not complete consensus within our group on the three policy planks below, we got really close, and I feel very good about what we came up with… It captures what I personally believe our space policy should be based upon under the next Administration.
From the glory days of Apollo to today’s Mars rovers and the International Space Station, the United States has always been a global leader in the peaceful uses of outer space. This leadership is now in jeopardy, and US space policy must be overhauled as space becomes a vital and increasingly competitive new economic frontier. Specifically:
1. Space and NASA are vital to dealing with the intertwined problems of energy independence and climate change, including both monitoring and finding solutions.
NASA collects more data about Earth’s environment than any other single entity on our planet. NASA has also historically incubated new technologies that are vital to clean renewable energy such as solar cells, batteries, and lightweight composite materials. The resource of space solar power may even offer us a long term, large scale solution to the problem of energy independence. However, under the Bush Administration, the “Earth” was removed from NASA’s mission statement and the findings of NASA’s leading climate change researchers were censored. Going forward, NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth must be fully funded, and the NASA must be explicitly called upon play a central role in our nation’s understanding and mitigation of climate change.
2. The United States, in cooperation with other nations and private industry, must reduce the cost of reliable access to space in order to secure national infrastructure, unlock new economic opportunities, and enable sustainable human exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit.
The US space program has been an incubator for new technologies and industries and a catalyst for technical education and inspiration since its inception. A renewed commitment to human spaceflight beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) will provide our nation with access to vital new resources and economic opportunities, enhance our understanding of our planet and ourselves, and engender a new era of peaceful cooperation with other nations. In order to unlock these opportunities, our nation must direct more of its existing investment in space to the development of far cheaper and more reliable access to LEO than we currently have, catalyzing innovation by private space entrepreneurs, and must work in close peaceful partnership with other nations in renewing human space exploration beyond LEO.
3. The President and Congress must have direct and independent advice on space and science policy issues.
Too often our nation’s space and science policy has been determined more by political lobbying by competing stakeholders than by technical merit and the National interest. The President’s space policy should be informed by regular and direct input from a panel of experts capable of balancing the complex overlapping interests, roles, and policy agendas of civilian, military, and commercial space actors. Further, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy should be appointed an assistant to the president, and given the access and attention commensurate with that rank. Finally, the Office of Technology Assessment should be reestablished to provide unbiased input to Congress on scientific and technical issues.
Commentary about Plank #1:
There was nearly ubiquitous consensus that the contributions that our space program can and has made to meeting the challenges of energy independence, understanding and mitigating climate change need to be paramount in terms of funding and attention in the space policy of the next Administration. However, there was considerable debate about whether that work should continue be done under the auspices of NASA itself (as well as other Federal Agencies), or under a new umbrella Federal “Earth Systems Engineering” organization that draws resources from NASA, DoE, NOAA, etc., as has been suggested recently by a number of former Federal officials.
Commentary about plank #2:
I’m a proponent of sustained human exploration beyond LEO, though I defer on judgements about whether Earth –> Moon –> Mars or Earth –> Asteroids or Earth –> ISS –> Mars etc. are the optimal architecture. What IS important to me is that human exploration beyond LEO does not supersede the Mission to Planet Earth budget and focus, and that the human exploration effort generates significant return in terms of inspiration, education, and technological innovation. The best way I see to do this, to my mind, is to a) design an architecture that has a limited budget and thus requires requires significant technological breakthroughs in order to succeed but that therefore once it succeeds, is sustainable, and b) aggressively employ COTS type incentives so that it doesn’t just become a jobs program to maintain large payrolls for large aerospace contractors with no assurance of success, and c) by committing to conducting exploration beyond LEO in partnership with China as well as Russia and other nations.
Commentary about plank #3:
The three major areas of policy concern for the group appeared to be: 1) CATS (Cheap Access to Space), 2) renewed focus of our space industry’s resources on the Earth’s environment, and 3) efficient human exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit. Even among our small group it proved DIFFICULT to It is DIFFICULT to harmoniously come up with a policy to achieve these goals concurrently, and we didn’t even give much consideration to military space. Hence our recommendation that the next Administration create or revive a body like the National Space Council to work through the complex policy agendas of the myriad stakeholders in civilian, military, and commercial space, in order to arrive at a more coherent and effetive integrated space policy strategy from which the President and Congress could draw.
In addition to my reinventing government and science policy panels at Netroots Nation on Friday the 18th, I’ll be moderating the only space-related panel at Netroots Nation, entitled “Progressive NASA and Space Policy Under a New Administration.” We have a great panel lineup– Chris Bowers of OpenLeft.com, George Whitesides of the National Space Society and Virgin Galactic, Lori Garver of Avascent (and formerly NASA), and Patti Grace Smith most recently of the FAA.
Then, about an hour after the panel we’ll be hosting a Space Meetup / Obama Space Policy Platform Meeting in downtown Austin, Texas.
It is my fervent hope that after next Friday we’ll have a much clearer sense of what a progressive space policy that all Americans can get behind in 2009 looks like, and also have the Netroots more informed about and actively engaged in space policy advocacy.
I’m very pleased to announce that for the first time, The Netroots Nation (Yearly Kos) Convention will feature a panel on space policy, July 18th or 19th in Austin, Texas. The panel, entitled, “Progressive NASA & Space Policy Under a New Administration,” is an opportunity to bring critical space policy issues to light within a potent progressive political constituency– the Netroots– that hasn’t historically paid much attention to space. It is also an opportunity for the Netroots to weigh in on what a new progressive space policy agenda could be under a progressive Administration in 2009.
I will be moderating a panel comprised of prominent progressive bloggers, leading space advocates, and space policy advisors to national Democratic campaigns, including Chris Bowers, Managing Editor of OpenLeft.com, Lori Garver, space policy advisor to the Presidential campaigns of John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, Patti Smith, recently retired as the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation for the FAA, and George Whitesides, Executive Director of the non-profit National Space Society. The discussion will address space policy from the following perspective:
“NASA is in crisis–overburdened, under-funded, and inefficient. Yet the progressive legacy of space, which dates back to JFK, is being quietly reborn: NASA can reinvent itself as a critical resource in climate change mitigation; the UN and some in the U.S. military are collaborating to prevent space weapons from becoming an arms race with China; progressive “NewSpace” entrepreneurs are creating new domestic high-tech jobs. Before 2009, a new progressive space policy needs to be devised and advocated beyond the traditional space constituencies, to upgrade Bush’s failing space exploration vision. Who better to initiate this work than the Netroots?
While traditionally a niche constituency on the national political radar, space policy takes on particular importance during the General Election, as 100,000s of aerospace jobs are at stake in the key swing States of Florida and Ohio. This year, NASA’s policy of returning humans to the Moon has come under fire from the Left since it is generally thought of as one of George W. Bush’s signature policy goals– his “Vision for Space Exploration.” Progressives in the space community are working hard to dissociate this policy agenda from the failed Bush Presidency so that it may be considered on its own merits. They are also formulating new space policy goals more central to the Progressive agenda, such as expanding NASA’s role in understanding Earth systems to mitigate climate change, as a bulwark against declining science and technology education in the US, and as a diplomatic tool for peaceful international collaboration with Europe, Russia, and even China. The panel will provide their perspective on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the candidates in the realm of space policy in the General Election, and will weigh in on their vision(s) of a progressive space policy under a new Administration in 2009.
Thanks to Salim Ismail for blogging the last NASA Luna Philosophie at his Yahoo Brickhouse facility. Luna Philosophie is a regular series of approximately monthly “space salons,” and is part of our NASA CoLab program, through which we’re building open collaborative communities for NASA.
Watch the video of NASA Ames’ Tom Cochrane’s Luna Philosophie talk about Virtual Reality System Engineering Environments for the Space Program.
An important meeting took place in Sebastapol last weekend (I didn’t know about it in advance, but I did wonder at the time why several folks in my Dopplr list were in Sebastapol concurrently!) to advance the cause of openness and accessibility of government data.
Good timing– the CoLab team just spent the past two days at NASA Headquarters running into and occasionally constructively running through cultural brick walls, many of which derive from the lack of perception inside NASA Headquarters of demand from the public for making government data open AND accessible. In the case of NASA, which has a massive trove of data to share, the latter is often a bigger challenge than the former.
The clear articulated set of principals for data openness and accessibility that came out of the Sebastapol meeting- and a clear public demand by highly credible citizen “customers”- will go a long way towards validating the problem statement that we attempted to convey to management at NASA HQ. Content and data managers from across Federal Agencies are beginning to network and share problems and solutions and new precedents amongst themselves, so this is a potent time to propose, implement, and then propagate change regarding government data inside Federal Agencies.
Thank you for the help, Sebastapolians! And one friendly suggestion/critique– get some people to the next meeting who are actually working on causing change on these issues from inside government– your invite list for this kickoff meeting didn’t appear to include anyone who is actually managing data or setting policy for same inside a government entity!