Voting for the American Space Program

Let’s say you really care about the American space program. You want the United States to return to the Moon, go to Mars, and maybe capture an asteroid. You hope we might put a submarine in Europa’s subsurface ocean or possibly deploy aerostats above Venus’s acid clouds. Oh, and don’t forget about the James Webb Space Telescope!

Let’s say space exploration is a top priority for you. In fact, let’s say it is your #1 political issue. So how should you vote?

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.

This puts us space policy voters in an awkward position. What do you do when you care about a political issue but that issue doesn’t fit neatly into either the Republican or Democratic camps?

One option is to join an advocacy group (also known as a special interest group). Here are three influential organizations that lobby Congress in support of space exploration:

  • The Mars Society: The Mars Society is focused on one and only one goal: colonizing Mars. Specifically, they advocate for the Mars Direct plan developed by Robert Zubrin. Under that plan, either NASA or a partnership between NASA and foreign space agencies would establish a small outpost on Mars within ten years. Subsequent missions would then expand that outpost into a full-fledged colony. Click here for more on the Mars Society.
  • The National Space Society: The National Space Society, or N.S.S., supports human settlement all across the Solar System, not just on Mars. Their plans include the Moon, Mars, orbital space stations, the asteroid belt… basically they want humans to set up shop wherever possible. Click here for more on the N.S.S.
  • The Planetary Society: The Planetary Society has some pretty big names behind it. It was founded by Carl Sagan and is currently headed by Bill Nye the Science Guy. They’re more focused on robotic space exploration than human space flight, and they’ve done a pretty respectable job convincing Congress to not slash NASA’s planetary science budget (or at least not slash it by too much). Click here for more about the Planetary Society.

Obviously joining any of these groups costs money, but you don’t have to spend zillions of dollars. Small contributions can make a surprisingly big difference for these kinds of organizations.

I just recently rejoined the Planetary Society after letting my membership lapse for a few years. I don’t have much money to spare, but I care enough about space exploration that I want to support it where I can. Also, their quarterly magazine is pretty informative.

I think many people get frustrated with American politics because some issues (like space policy) just don’t seem to fit into the two-party system. So if there’s a political cause you care about, especially if it’s not clearly identifiable as a Democrat issue or a Republican issue, consider joining an advocacy group. Voting is not the only way you can make your voice heard.

6 Responses to Voting for the American Space Program

  1. Well said. I think the most important insight is that if you want to see something change, you have to focus on convincing people, not politicians. Politicians will (eventually) go where their voters want them to go. If most of those voters want space exploration, they’ll get it.

    The problem is that while most voters vaguely support space exploration, it rarely rises to anything they actually press politicians on. Until that changes, or unless someone finds a powerful economic incentive similar to the 15th century spice trade that spurred the “age of exploration”, space exploration will proceed at a snail’s pace.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Pailly says:

      Yeah, an economic incentive would do a lot of good. I have high hopes for asteroid mining, but that still depends on NASA proving that an asteroid capture mission is feasible first.

      Liked by 1 person

    • There are also a lot of different ways to think about NASA’s role in addition to just exploration and discovery, which isn’t often that compelling to people. People might be more willing to press the issue if they were a bit more aware of how much we rely on satellites, and the growing mass of space junk, and more – there’s just as much in NASA for the pragmatists as for there is for the adventurous and intellectually curious!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I totally agree, although with the rise of private sector spaceflight, a lot of the satellite stuff is gradually moving away from NASA, or other public space organizations, which is generally a good thing. NASA should be focused on the cutting edge / frontier.

        Liked by 2 people

      • That’s true – but perhaps there’s room also for a NASA-version of the EPA to discern and enforce environmental regulations in commercial/private space development? Just to hopefully prevent a future of interstellar Superfund sites.

        Liked by 1 person

      • James Pailly says:

        Let’s not forget the threat of killer asteroids. That’s part of NASA’s job too.

        Liked by 1 person

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