Florida Lt. Gov. Kottkamp Wants Obama to Debate New Space Policy

Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center

Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp has challenged Barack Obama to a debate over the proposed new direction for NASA during the President’s visit to Florida on April 15. In an open letter sent to newspaper editorial pages, he writes:

The president has scheduled a “space summit” in April here in Florida. The “health care summit” the president recently moderated amounted to nothing more than the exchange of political talking points. As a state, and as a nation, we cannot allow the space summit to become another political forum with no real effort to find a solution that is in the best interest of the country.

It is with the need for a defined space mission in mind, and the desire not only to save 7,000 to 19,000 jobs in Florida, but also to maintain our nation’s position as the world’s leader in space exploration, that I challenge the president to debate the need for the creation of the nation’s next human space exploration program now. This is not the time for flowery speeches, it is the time for action.

It’s an interesting proposal. Obama is generally seen to be an expert debater, a skill that helped him win the Presidency. He visited a Republican gathering not long ago in which he debated took questions from his opponents. The President was largely seen to have gotten the better of the exchange. The Republican friendly Fox News Network actually cut away from the live feed, an action widely viewed as resulting from discomfort over Obama’s strong performance.

There’s another risk as well to Kottkamp, who is in the midst of a campaign to become Florida Attorney General. He is chairman of Space Florida, a state aerospace development agency whose critics say has done a poor job of preparing the Space Coast for the long-planned shutdown of NASA’s space shuttle program. That decision was made years ago by the Bush Administration and has been reaffirmed by the current administration.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Sentinel reports that officials are still defining the parameters of the President’s visit to Florida next month:

It remains to be seen what exactly White House plans are for the meeting, which is now being called a “Space Conference.” NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver was at Kennedy Space Center last week scoping out possible venues for the meeting….

The location of the meeting isn’t the only aspect of the conference taxing officials’ minds. Administration insiders are still discussing various formats as well as whom to invite to the event.

There is some talk about a Town Hall meeting with space workers, but many people — not least KSC Center Director Bob Cabana — are reportedly opposed to the idea because tensions are running high at KSC. As many as 9,000 shuttle workers are set to lose their jobs when the shuttle stops flying, perhaps later this year.

The sad part is that despite all the rhetoric flying around, no program – neither Obama’s nor Constellation – is likely to offset those numbers anytime soon.


FULL TEXT OF LT. GOV. JEFF KOTTKAMP’S LETTER

When President Barack Obama recently released his recommended budget for fiscal year 2011, the proposal called for an end of the space shuttle program and cancellation of the planned Constellation program (thus halting plans to return to the moon and then going to Mars). The White House proposal would leave our country with no defined mission and would open the door for China or Russia to assume the mantle as the world leader in space exploration.

Not only would this threaten our nation’s position as an economic superpower, it also could have serious ramifications for our national defense. Military superiority was once measured by who had the best army. Then it was who had the best navy, and then air force. Today, it is measured by who controls space. Therefore, being the leading nation in space exploration is both an economic and national defense issue.

The president has scheduled a “space summit” in April here in Florida. The “health care summit” the president recently moderated amounted to nothing more than the exchange of political talking points. As a state, and as a nation, we cannot allow the space summit to become another political forum with no real effort to find a solution that is in the best interest of the country.

It is with the need for a defined space mission in mind, and the desire not only to save 7,000 to 19,000 jobs in Florida, but also to maintain our nation’s position as the world’s leader in space exploration, that I challenge the president to debate the need for the creation of the nation’s next human space exploration program now. This is not the time for flowery speeches, it is the time for action.

It is time to make a bold statement and give the American people another challenge (putting astronauts on Mars for starters), another purpose, with a defined time line (within the decade), to continue our nation’s leadership in space exploration. Americans rise to the occasion every time we are challenged. Now is the time to take on a new challenge in space exploration — not to retreat from our history, our collective accomplishments and our position as the world leader in space.