Obama Wins Re-election, Space Policy to Remain the Same

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By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

President Barack Obama handily won re-election against Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Tuesday, ensuring that American space policy will remain largely unchanged over the next four years.

Although there will be no major policy shifts, NASA will likely face budgetary pressures as the nation grapples with the need to reduce the deficit. The first challenge comes with sequestration, which would trigger a series of deep spending cuts in the federal budget this January unless Obama and Congress can work out a deal.

Meanwhile, the song remains largely the same in Congress in terms of members on key NASA committees. And developments in California appear to bode well for strengthening a state informed consent law backed by commercial space proponents.

There will be no big changes in Congress among members who have major roles in determining NASA’s budget. The following members have been re-elected:

  • Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL)
  • Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL)
  • Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA)
  • Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL)
  • Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX)
  • Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

In Texas, Tea Party backed Republican Ted Cruz won the race to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).

A couple of developments of note in California. Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy won re-election in the 23rd District, which includes the booming Mojave Air and Space Port.

Early results indicate that State Assemblyman Steve Knight is leading in his race to represent the 21st District in the California Senate. If his lead holds, this could bode well for strengthening an informed consent law covering spaceflight participants that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year. [UPDATE: Knight won the seat handily by a 58-to-42 percent margin over Star Moffatt.]

The original bill gave spaceflight operators immunity from lawsuits in the event of injuries or deaths of participants except in cases of gross negligence or intentional harm.  The Legislature significantly weakened the measure, which currently allows participants to sue under limited civil liability rules.

Mojave spaceport officials are hoping that Knight, who introduced the original bill, will have more leverage to push through changes in the law if he wins the Senate race. In addition to strengthening the liability protection, the law could be expanded to cover spacecraft manufacturers and parts suppliers.

Speaking to the East Kern Airport District Board of Directors on Tuesday, Mojave spaceport CEO Stu Witt said he has began to prepare the groundwork for amendments to the law through meetings with officials in Sacramento.