Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Obama winning the space race

I've got no idea who will win the primary race today in Wisconsin, but I definitely agree with Matt Yglesias and disagree with Chris Bowers that Obama is winning the space race against Clinton by de-emphasizing the human spaceflight program.

Specifically, Obama has called for delaying the over-budget Constellation mission to return to the moon (with a vague pretense of eventually going to Mars), in order to fund math and science education. As Yglesias correctly points out, Bowers' counter-argument points to the science benefits of the useful, unmanned space program to argue for human spaceflight which has almost no science value (doing it an additional time here, too). In fact the budget overruns from manned spaceflight meant "we took a couple of billion out of [unmanned space] science" in the words of NASA Administrator Mike Griffin. So if you like the science results that Bowers points to, you should support Obama.

Bowers tries to come up with non-science reasons for human spaceflight, and it's just the same vague nothings that I see all the time on the space websites. Yglesias tries to give developing countries reasons to put people in space, but I think resource-constrained societies have much better things to do with money than throw it away. If they want to spend money on high-tech, do clean energy. Or, get involved in aviation. China could have built a competitor to Boeing with the money they burned to put a couple guys into orbit. Was that a good expense?

Meanwhile, Obama has taken a lot heat from the space nuts who like our useless human spaceflight program. Not the hugest possible difference in the world, but it does take some guts to take on the political patronage involved in NASA.

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