Red Planets and Blue Planets: The Politics of Space Exploration

It’s an election year here in the United States. As a blogger, I’m pretty sure I am legally obligated to rant about politics during an election year. Also, as I continue my research about space, I am becoming increasingly aware of how American politics and space exploration are intertwined.

First off, our Solar System is divided between red planets and blue planets.

Mr12 Red Planets and Blue Planets

The partisan divide on space exploration might surprise you. Republicans, famous for wanting to reduce spending everywhere possible, tend to support NASA; Democrats, who generally support more government spending, usually try to cut NASA’s budget.

As an example, you may recall that Newt Gingrich, former Republican Speaker of the House, not only wanted America to return to the Moon but also wanted to make the Moon America’s 51st state. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama put and end to the space shuttle program.

I want to be fair here. When the Obama Administration canceled the space shuttle program, I was disappointed, but that decision paved the way for private companies like SpaceX to get into the space exploration game, which will probably be a good thing in the long run. And as much as I do want America to return to the Moon, that whole 51st state idea was a bit kooky.

Still, Republicans are generally more supportive of NASA than Democrats (except when NASA is doing climate change research). Please do not assume that this makes me a Republican. I have strong opinions about a number of other political issues. Space exploration actually ranks pretty low on my list of priorities when I vote in federal elections.

Fortunately, you don’t have to vote Republican to show your support for space exploration. There are other options, which I’ll review in greater detail on Wednesday.

8 Responses to Red Planets and Blue Planets: The Politics of Space Exploration

  1. “Meanwhile, President Barack Obama put and end to the space shuttle program.”

    Actually, the decision to end the space shuttle was made during the Bush administration in the wake of the Columbia disaster. Obama just followed through with it.

    Although I do have to admit that I was disappointed with the turn from concrete goals (returning the moon, etc) to the “flexible” goals that didn’t really focus on much of anything, pushing any actual concrete destinations into the 2020s, and any approach to Mars safely in the 2030s, at best.

    I agree that far left liberals are generally less supportive of Nasa than moderates or conservatives, which as a moderate liberal, I find to be a shame.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Pailly says:

      Well I just learned something. I didn’t know the Bush Administration was behind the cancelling of the space shuttle program. Maybe I’ve been giving the Republicans too much credit on space policy.

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      • If I recall correctly, they were following the recommendation of a committee assessing the shuttle’s future after the disaster. They scheduled the cancellation and started work on the Constellation program, which Obama did cancel…sort of (they eventually kept the Orion capsule, and the Space Launch System rockets seem like a rebranding of the Constellation rockets).

        Liked by 1 person

      • James Pailly says:

        Ah yes, I think that is the way it played out. As I recall, the Bush Administration had very high ambitions for Constellation and then never put up funding for it. The end result was that Obama inherited a non functional rocket program.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just to be clear, I do think cancelling the space shuttle was the right thing to do. It never worked as well as everyone hoped back in the 70s. Its design was dangerous and it was expensive, crowding out funding for designs necessary for leaving low earth orbit.

        Liked by 1 person

      • James Pailly says:

        Some of the same concerns apply to the SLS. Even so, the SLS does seem to be a clear improvement over the space shuttle. As disappointed as I was about losing the shuttle program, it does look like the US is moving in the right direction.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. The SLS is certainly not going to be the most cost effective program, but the same could have been said about the Saturn V, and at least it’s a platform that can be built upon. (Although the SLS should be safer than the shuttle, not having its fuel tank mounted to the side, and allowing for a top mounted launch abort system.)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. […] On Monday, I made the argument that Republicans are generally more pro-NASA than Democrats. But that doesn’t mean we, as space enthusiasts, have to vote Republican (thank goodness, especially this year). In fact, Republicans tend to set goals for NASA that sound exciting but are perhaps a little too ambitious; you could argue that Republicans just set NASA up to fail. Meanwhile Democrats don’t seem to object to space exploration, but they’d prefer to spend federal dollars elsewhere. […]

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