John Kerry on Space 2004


Additional photos of John Kerry's visit to NASA Kennedy Space Center on 26 July 2004

Excerpt from "New Moon Rising - The Making of America's New Space Vision and the Remaking of NASA" by Frank Sietzen Jr. and Keith L. Cowing which will be in bookstores in early August 2004

Of course, the only comments from a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 that have come to have any real relevance to the future progress of Bush's new space policy (should Bush lose) are those of John Kerry, the Democratic Party's 2004 nominee. The day after Bush's speech, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted Kerry as saying, "Rather than sending Americans to Mars or the Moon right now, these people would be better off trying to figure out how to get Americans back from Iraq."

On 26 February 2004 the Cleveland Plain Dealer, reporting on Senator and former Astronaut John Glenn's endorsement of John Kerry's candidacy for president wrote: "In the afterglow of pioneering astronaut John Glenn's endorsement, Sen. John Kerry said Wednesday that he would fight to create new high-paying jobs in America with the same vigor that President Kennedy demonstrated in launching the space program in the 1960s ... But Kerry said the U.S. government should not be talking about returning to the Moon or going to Mars—missions proposed by President Bush. Rather, he said, leaving his prepared speech, 'We need to go to the Moon right here on Earth' by creating high-paying jobs of the future and making sure that 'young Americans in uniform are never held hostage' to Middle East oil.'"

In a written response to questions submitted by in June 2004 to Sen. Kerry's campaign, Kerry is quoted as saying, "NASA is an invaluable asset to the American people and must receive adequate resources to continue its important mission of exploration... However, there is little to be gained from a 'Bush space initiative' that throws out lofty goals, but fails to support those goals with realistic funding." goes on to quote Kerry as saying, "The civil space program acts as an engine of innovation for the entire country, making its enormous benefits hard to quantify but even harder to discount... I'm excited by potential advances in pharmaceuticals that microgravity could lead to... Unique drug treatments produced in the microgravity environment may play a vital role in reducing the cost of health care and in developing defenses against chemical and biological terrorist attacks."

Kerry has gone on the record favoring, at least as a general notion, the possibility of raising NASA's budget. On the official Kerry campaign website, a 28 August 2003 article titled 'John Kerry's Plan to Fight for America's Economic Future' says: "Kerry will fight to connect every American family to the Internet, encourage a renewed educational focus on science and math, bring the best practices of operational efficiency from the private sector to the public sector, and restore the government's commitment to scientific achievement through increases in research funding for the Department of Energy, NASA, and the National Science Foundation." A trillion here, a trillion there ...

However, with regard to the Bush space policy, it would seem that the Kerry campaign was a little too eager to try and cast doubt on budget numbers used by the Bush Administration—and thus undermine the credibility of whatever Bush proposed to do in space.

In a 5 April 2004 official press release titled 'New Report Reveals $6 Trillion in Hidden Spending in Bush Budget', the Kerry campaign says, "The True Cost of the Mars Mission ($160 billion to $1 trillion): President Bush has only included $1 billion in increased NASA funding to fulfill his ambitious plan to establish a lunar base and land people on Mars. Independent estimates of the cost of the Mars mission range from $160 billion to $1 trillion.[3]" The $1 trillion reference is listed as "[3] The $160 billion estimate is from Congressional Testimony by Michael Griffin, former Chief Engineer of NASA on 3/10/04. The $1 trillion estimate is from Gregg Easterbrook, 'Red Scare,' The New Republic, 2/2/04."

In Gregg Easterbrook's 2 February 2004 article 'Red Scare,' cited as a source for a mission cost estimate by the Kerry campaign, you can see that Easterbrook uses only conjectural semantics—and not any actual costs, specific designs, or mission architectures, to imagine that the cost of a single mission to Mars would be $1 trillion. How Easterbrook arrived at the number is simply not revealed. By the tone of Easterbrook's article, it is clear that he does not like the Bush space policy. As such, he made up some sticker-shock to help him make his case.

The interesting thing about this $1 trillion figure is that you can never trace it to a factual cost analysis. Instead it is a large round number that is used to scare people— or when reporters haven't done their homework. It goes around like a virus too. In January 2004, former Associated Press reporter Paul Recer included it in an article he wrote, but could never identify its source.

Former Columbia Accident Investigation Board panel member Douglas Osheroff made a similar unsubstantiated comment in another Associated Press article by reporter Ted Bridis on 14 June 2004 where he is quoted saying, "Never let it be said that NASA tends to overestimate the cost of its missions," said Douglas Osheroff, a widely renowned physicist who investigated the Columbia accident. "The cost in present-day dollars ... I think it's going to be one trillion." Osheroff 'thinks' it will cost a trillion dollars. Bridis also makes reference to the $1 trillion figure—but never apparently sought to confirm it for himself or ask Osheroff what his source was. A few days after this article appeared Osheroff was one of 48 Nobel laureates who formally endorsed John Kerry.

The net result of this urban myth is that everyone seems to think that a cost estimation was made—by someone, somewhere—that said the new Bush space policy was going to cost $1 trillion when in fact no such estimate has ever actually been derived.

Kerry's past record on space

Space, as a campaign issue, has been, at best, a blip on the political radar screens of national campaigns. Whether it will become an issue in the 2004 race is unclear, but doubtful. While Kerry has spoken little about space during the 2004 race, he has taken a very public stand during his career in the Senate. It is from his previous statements that one can get an idea of where he once stood, and likely still stands vis-à-vis space. Should Kerry win the election, it would be logical to expect that his stance on space as president would at least use previous statements as a departure point.

Perhaps the clearest insight into John Kerry's view on human spaceflight can be seen in his floor statements from the Congressional Record. One 1996 floor statement in regard to HR 3666 and an attempt to cancel funding for the International Space Station is particularly illustrative. Curiously, while Kerry expressed excitement for the prospect that drugs could be created in microgravity (one of the things ISS was supposed to do) in June 2004, a decade earlier, Kerry justified canceling the ISS in favor of a stronger focus on fighting disease:

SPACE STATION FUNDING (Senate - September 04, 1996)

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I join with the distinguished Senator from Arkansas as a cosponsor of his amendment and urge my colleagues to support this effort to terminate funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Space Station program, which the General Accounting Office estimates will cost American taxpayers $94 billion.

Every day, the working families of Massachusetts have to make tough choices about what they can afford, how to pay the rent, and whether they can send their kids to college.

The Federal budget deficit, while reduced by two-thirds due to President Clinton's leadership and the courage of the Democratic-controlled Congress in 1993, is still too high and must be eliminated. It is a drain on our economy and, increasingly, the debt service we pay is robbing us of the ability to make badly needed investments in our future. I have been working in the U.S. Senate to make the tough choices necessary to balance the budget.

When measured against this imperative, I believe the space station's potential benefits—which I recognize—do not stand the test. I believe we must terminate funding for this program. We cannot spend nearly $100 billion of the taxpayers money to fund the space station and then say that we do not have enough money to put cops on the beat, clean our environment, and ensure that our children get the best education possible.

The Senator from Arkansas, joined by several others of us, has made a valiant effort to halt this project again and again over the past several years. I am hopeful that this year the time has come when the Senate will exercise fiscal responsibility over our Federal budget, like any family in Massachusetts would over its own family budget, by terminating the space station immediately in order to reduce the deficit.

In 1984, NASA justified the space station based on eight potential uses. Now only one of these assignments remains: the space station will be used as a research laboratory. However, the costs of performing scientific research in space simply outweigh the potential benefits. It will cost over $12,000 to ship 1 pound of payload to the space station.

Many of my colleagues support the space station because it creates jobs. But the project's costs for developing jobs are exorbitant—those jobs will cost approximately $161,000 each. If invested here on terra firma, that amount of money would fund three or four or even more jobs.

As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I have fought, along with the distinguished Senator from South Carolina [Mr. Hollings ] and other Senators, to secure funding for many important scientific programs. Many of these programs have been shortchanged in order to help pay for the costs associated with the development of the space station. Allowing this extraordinary large science program to receive funding at the expense of these other so-called small science programs—which I believe will produce more products and more valuable products—is unacceptable. These small programs are creating thousands of high wage technology jobs at a fraction of the cost associated with the space station.

In the space program itself, the enormous level of funding consumed by the space station is crowding out much smaller programs for satellites and unmanned space probes, which most experts consider more cost-effective than manned missions.

These activities are aimed at expanding our understanding of the Sun, the solar system, and the universe beyond. The specific programs in this category include the 'new millennium,' a program to build robotic spacecraft one-tenth the size and cost of satellites; the Cassini mission to Saturn, scheduled for launch in 1997; continuation of the Discovery missions, each of which costs less than $150 million, can be launched within 3 years of the start of its development, and is used by NASA to find ways to develop smaller, cheaper, faster, better planetary spacecraft; and the Mars surveyor program which funds a series of small missions to resume the detailed exploration of Mars after the loss of the Mars Observer mission in 1993.

Funding for projects in this area will be approximately $1.86 billion in fiscal year 1997 which represents a 9-percent reduction from last year. The academic research establishment is concerned that the space station appears to be draining funds from these other space projects.

Also included among the programs placed at risk by the space station is the mission to planet Earth, NASA's satellite program to explore global climate change by means of a series of Earth observing satellites launched over a 15-year period, beginning in 1998—a program endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences.

Given the structure of congressional appropriations bills, the enormous funding for the space station has come not just at the expense of other space programs but at the expense of environmental research and other important activities that promise to improve the lives of our citizens and enhance our security more completely.

Building the space station has become a joint effort between the United States and Russia. We all want to see continued progress in United States-Russian relations. However, we should be encouraging Russia to house and feed its own people, provide jobs, and above all care for its deteriorating nuclear power plants and dismantle its nuclear missiles and warheads. Asking Russia to commit its resources to pursue an uncertain and risky space station venture instead of encouraging it to tend to these important matters is unwise.

Some may argue that we have lost our vision if we terminate the space station. But their concern is misplaced. We still have vision. But the vision is to restore the American dream to our citizens, to restore their sense of safety on the streets, to invest in technology that will increase our competitiveness and the quality of jobs, to invest in research that will cure our deadly diseases, and to restore our communities to the condition where children can learn and dream. It is time to decide. I think the American people are watching impatiently to see whether the U.S. Congress can deliver spending reductions for programs that are politically popular but fiscally unwise.

I commend my distinguished colleague from Arkansas, Senator Bumpers, for his continuing leadership on this important issue. I urge all my colleagues to vote to terminate the space station."

Kerry expressed similar sentiments in regard to the FY 1994 VA HUD Appropriations Act on September 21, 1994:

"We have libraries and schools in the United States of America that are shut in the afternoon and kids have nowhere to go. We have whole cities that are deprived of Boys and Girls Clubs so only 10 percent of the population has a place to find an outlet. But we can find money to put a few astronauts up in space at this moment in time?

I would love to do that. I was raised on the promise of President Kennedy. Someone here asked earlier, 'Don't we have people of vision anymore?' Yes, Mr. President, we do. But the vision is to restore the American dream to our citizens, to restore their sense of safety on the streets, to invest in technology that will increase our competitiveness and the quality of jobs, to invest in the research that will cure our deadly diseases, and to restore our communities to the condition where children can learn and dream.

Will terminating this program hurt in California? Will it hurt in Texas? Will the loss of $600,000 hurt in Massachusetts? Yes, it will hurt. But if we measure that loss against the pain that people across the country are feeling because we are not willing to address our fundamental needs as a Nation.

It is hard choice time. That is what this is about, and I think the American people are waiting feverishly to see whether the United States Congress can actually do something for once—whether we can really deliver some spending reductions and make some of the choices we ought to make for our future.

Mr. President, I hope we will finally ante up and deliver to the American people. I had a separate bill to try to cut the space station and a number of other wasteful Federal programs. I am delighted to join the Senator from Arkansas and the Senator from Tennessee and others who are leading in this effort to try to help the Congress do the responsible thing. I hope we will succeed."

John Kerry has a generally supportive view of NASA—as long as he doesn't have to get nailed down to specifics. This is not to say that he would not support the agency overall—indeed he has indicated that he would. But when it comes to the International Space Station, his voting record speaks resoundingly clearly:

  • In 1991, Kerry Voted To "Reduce Funding For The Space Station From $2 Billion To $100 Million," And Transfer Funds To Other Programs. (H.R. 2519, Congressional Quarterly Vote #132: Rejected 35-64: R 3-40; D 32-24, July 17, 1991, Kerry Voted Yea)
  • In 1992, Kerry Voted To Terminate Space Station "Freedom" Project. (H.R. 5679, Congressional Quarterly Vote #194: Rejected 34-63: R 4-39; D 30-24, September 9, 1992, Kerry Voted Yea)
  • In 1993, Kerry Voted "To Terminate The Space Station Program." (H.R. 2491, Congressional Quarterly Vote #272: Motion Agreed To 59-40: R 36-8; D 23-32, September 21, 1993, Kerry Voted Nay)
  • In 1993, Kerry Voted To Terminate Space Station Program And Divert Funds To Tax Cuts. (H.R. 3167, Congressional Quarterly Vote #335: Motion rejected 36-61: R 10-32; D 26-29, October 27, 1993, Kerry Voted Yea)
  • In 1994, Kerry Voted To Cut $1.9 Billion From Space Station Program, Thus Terminating It. (H.R. 4624, Congressional Quarterly Vote #253: Rejected 36-64: R 6-38; D 30-26, August 3, 1994, Kerry Voted Yea)
  • In 1995, Kerry Voted To Reduce NASA Funding By $400 Million. (H.R. 889, Congressional Quarterly Vote #105: Motion Agreed To 64-35: R 43-11; D 21-24, March 16, 1995, Kerry Voted Nay)
  • In 1995, Kerry Voted To Cut $1.8 Billion From NASA's Human Space Flight Program. (H.R. 2099, Congressional Quarterly Vote #463: Motion Rejected 35-64: R 12-41; D 23-23, September 26, 1995, Kerry Voted Yea)
  • In 1996, Kerry Voted To Cut $1.6 Billion From NASA's Human Space Flight Program And Terminate Space Station Program. (H.R. 3666, Congressional Quarterly Vote #267: Motion Agreed To 61-36: R 38-12; D 23-24, September 4, 1996, Kerry Voted Nay)

Given this rather blunt rejection of human space flight and a permanent human presence in space, one has to wonder: if Kerry is this strongly against the International Space Station, a multi-year, multi-billion dollar international program several hundred miles overhead, whether he'd be any more interested in a similarly large, long-term project that sent humans to the Moon or Mars.

Then again, people have been known to change. Nixon went to China.

Excerpt from "New Moon Rising - The Making of America's New Space Vision and the Remaking of NASA" by Frank Sietzen Jr. and Keith L. Cowing which will be in bookstores in early August 2004

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