“I’ve got a strong belief in NASA and the process of space exploration. I do think that our program has been stuck for a while – that the space shuttle mission did not inspire the imagination of the public – that much of the experimentation that was done could have been conducted not necessarily with manned flights. I think that broadening our horizons – and looking at a combination of both unmanned satellites of the sort that we saw with the Jupiter launch – but also looking at where we can start planning for potential manned flights. I think that is something that I’m excited about and could be part of a broader strategy for science and technology investment … The only thing I want to say is that I want to do a thorough review because some of these programs may not be moving in the right direction and I want to make sure that NASA spending is a little more coherent than it has been over the last several years.”
It would be good to have a President who understood the difference in science payoff between manned and unmanned spaceflight. The former is exciting and inspirational, the latter gets enormously greater results per dollar. The Bush administration, with their magical ability to screw up everything they touch, has been killing off science at NASA in favor of a misguided Moon/Mars initiative (despite public apathy). But the situation is not hopeless. The way we fund science in this country is completely irrational, starting up a ten-year project one year and canceling it (leaving international partners high and dry) the next. The good news is that we can use such capriciousness to our advantage, pulling the plug from expensive boondoggles that were initiated for political reasons rather than scientific ones. I would rather have a thoughtful system of setting research priorities and a track record of commitment to long-term projects, but you go to war with the army you have.