In a move destined to anger NewSpace advocates, Mitt Romney has released a letter of support signed by eight space leaders, including prominent commercial space critics Mike Griffin, Scott Pace and Gene Cernan. Pace, in fact, is chairman of the Romney Space Policy Advisory Group.
“We have watched with dismay as President Obama dismantled the structure that was guiding both the government and commercial space sectors, while providing no purpose or vision or mission,” the signers wrote. “This failure of leadership has thrust the space program into disarray and triggered a dangerous erosion of our technical workforce and capabilities. In short, we have a space program unworthy of a great nation.”
“Restoring the U.S. space program to greatness will require the leadership, management skill, and commitment to American exceptionalism possessed by only one candidate in this race: Mitt Romney. We support Mitt’s candidacy and believe that his approach to space policy will produce results instead of empty promises,” they added.
Actually, Romney’s entire “approach to space policy” thus far has consisted of saying he would bring together a bunch of experts (presumably this group) to figure out what his space policy should be. Given the vagueness of the candidate’s statements, let’s look at who’s supporting him.
Griffin, the former NASA Administrator, has led the fight against the Obama Administrations efforts to cancel the Constellation program he began and to develop commercial transports for low Earth orbit missions. Griffin advised Cernan and fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong concerning their testimony against these policies before Congress. Pace, who heads up the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University, has been a prominent skeptic of the Administration’s approach.
As for the other signers, the commercial side is represented by Eric Anderson, Chairman and CEO of Space Adventures. Mark Albrecht, former executive secretary of the National Space Council, is chairman of the board of a commercial space company called USSpace. Albrecht has been critical of NASA’s bureaucracy.
Others who signed the letter include:
Pilot, First Space Shuttle Mission
Former Director, NASA Space Shuttle Program
Former Director of Space Policy, National Security Council
Former Director of Special Programs, Department of Defense
Associate Professor of International Security Studies, The Fletcher School at Tufts University
Former Alan B. Shepard Chair of Space Technology and Policy Studies, Naval War College
The presence of Anderson and Albrecht notwithstanding, this looks like a recipe for resurrecting the full Constellation program and strangling the commercial crew effort. One also wonders whether Griffin will get his old job back.
It’s not clear whether the signatories are all members of advisory board that Pace heads up. One would assume so, but this is not explicitly stated. If that is true, then Romney has released an “open letter of support” from his own handpicked advisory board. That’s unusual for open letters.
Critics are finding Griffin’s support for Romney less surprising than it is ironic. Supporters of the Obama Administration’s space policy blame Griffin for creating the hideously expensive Constellation program, which was seriously behind schedule and over budget when Obama decided to cancel it on the grounds it couldn’t be executed.
They are finding it ironic that Romney, who said he would fire anyone who proposed an expensive moon base, would be getting support from Griffin, whose own Constellation plan was completely unaffordable.
Obama’s supporters blame Congress, which acted in accordance with Griffin’s advice, for resurrecting certain elements of Constellation — mostly prominently, the expensive heavy-lift Space Launch System — and underfunding the commercial crew effort. The result, they feel, is a NASA trying to do too much with too few resources that will be dependent upon Russia for human spaceflight for far too long. They don’t see that as being a space program worthy of a great nation.
The full letter is reproduced below.
ROMNEY WILL RESTORE AMERICA’S SPACE PROGRAM
The U.S. space program is a strategic national asset, which makes critical contributions to our scientific knowledge, technological innovation, economic competitiveness, national security, and international leadership. We have watched with dismay as President Obama dismantled the structure that was guiding both the government and commercial space sectors, while providing no purpose or vision or mission. This failure of leadership has thrust the space program into disarray and triggered a dangerous erosion of our technical workforce and capabilities. In short, we have a space program unworthy of a great nation.
Restoring the U.S. space program to greatness will require the leadership, management skill, and commitment to American exceptionalism possessed by only one candidate in this race: Mitt Romney. We support Mitt’s candidacy and believe that his approach to space policy will produce results instead of empty promises. As his long record of success in both the private and public sectors attests, Mitt will do more than provide our space program with an inspiring vision and mission of exploration. He will also set aggressive yet achievable goals, adhere to realistic budgets, and execute on a carefully drawn plan.
As president, Mitt Romney will facilitate close collaboration not only within the government’s civil and national security space sectors, but also with the private sector and with research institutions. He will create conditions for a strong and competitive commercial space industry that can contribute greatly to our national capabilities and goals. And he will ensure that NASA returns its focus to the project of manned space exploration that uniquely affirms American strength and values around the globe. Under his leadership, America will once again lead the world in space.