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Tue, Mar 04, 2008

Texas Primary, Caucus Force Candidates To Define Views On NASA

Policies Range From More Money Now, To Less Money Later

A sidebar to the stories in the general media about Tuesday's Texas presidential primary and state caucus is the attention the campaigning has drawn to NASA. The policies of the next president are important to Texas voters, and the topic is one of the few on which the candidates have relatively distinct differences.

On Monday, the Houston Chronicle summarized the positions of the various campaigns for its readers, and here, in a nutshell, is what they've been saying in their stump speeches.

On the Democrat side, Hillary Clinton recently told the Chronicle that, as a young girl, she wanted to become an astronaut, but received a letter back from NASA at the time saying, "...they weren't taking any girls."

Clinton adds she wants to pursue an ambitious space agenda, she recently voted in favor of a Senate bill to add a billion dollars to NASA's budget in 2008, and claims former US Senator John Glenn as an advisor. Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth in 1962, and the oldest person ever to fly in space in 1998, when he flew aboard the shuttle Discovery.

In contrast, Barack Obama has worked to clarify his policy on the space agency, after he originally said he wanted to delay NASA's Constellation program by five years to divert money to education programs, then said he wanted to reduce the five-year span currently planned between the retirement of the shuttle fleet in 2010, and the first flights of Orion in 2015.

Obama now says he wants to develop Orion on or ahead of schedule, but delay sending humans to Mars or back to the moon to save money. The Clinton campaign is trying to paint that position as inconsistent.

Among the Republicans, Mike Huckabee says another $2 billion should be allocated to shorten the gap between the shuttle fleet's 2010 retirement, and Orion's first flight in 2015, by two years.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul -- whose presidential campaign has been largely ignored in much of the eastern US, but who is hugely popular in his home state -- says we could do more for NASA if we weren't spending so much money overseas.

Arizona Senator John McCain, the probable Republican nominee for President, says NASA needs to do a better job prioritizing its expenditures, but calls investment in manned spaceflight very important. He admitted to the Chronicle that he has been, "...very enamored of Mars... since I was a child."

Jeff Foust, editor of the blog SpacePolitics.com, tells the Chronicle it probably won't matter to NASA, or its operations in Houston, who wins the election. Regardless of who assumes the White House, he predicts, "...they continue funding NASA at roughly the same level because that level of spending in absolute dollars and as a percentage of the overall budget seems to be a fairly stable, sustainable level."

FMI: www.nasa.gov, www.hillaryclinton.com, www.barackobama.com, www.mikehuckabee.com, www.ronpaul2008.com, www.johnmccain.com

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