Across the fast changing American political landscape, where presidential candidates now talk about space programs and activities as part of their standard policy pronouncements, its only natural for news outlets to track those campaign promises and follow-up on whether or not they have ever been fulfilled.
Politifact.com, a project operated by the Tampa Bay Times, which tracks political promises and eventual results, is currently the best of the lot in this area.
The Pulitzer Prize winning organization (it was awarded for fact-checking over 750 political statements made by candidates during the 2008 US presidential campaign) has strong readership in Florida and Texas (where much NASA work is performed) and has set aside a small section of its ongoing coverage to track the promises deferred, kept and broken by US president Barack Obama in his public statements regarding space policy.
As tracked under the title "Promises about Space on The Obameter," here's what Politifact thinks about the record of the current US President, along with a few personal comments:
- Promise: To seek a code of conduct for space-faring nations - Although the administration has made noises in this area, it has also rebuffed the recent European Union proposed code of conduct for space activities and Politifact lists this promise as a "compromise."
- Promise: To re-establish the National Aeronautics and Space Council - The idea to revive the National Aeronautics and Space Council appears dead and Politifact lists this as a "promise broken."
- Promise: To add another space shuttle flight before shuttle retirement - STS-135, the final shuttle flight, was an addition to the shuttle flight schedule. Politifact lists this as a "promise kept."
- Promise: To speed up development of the next-generation space vehicle - Since no shuttle replacement has yet flown, Politifact lists this as a promise "in the works."
- Promise: To use the private sector to improve spaceflight capabilities - While there are certain newspace advocates who were quoted in the 2009 - 2010 period for this assessment who said positive things about the administrations encouragement of private sector initiatives, those sources are likely not feeling quite so positive about the current environment. Politifact still lists this as a "promise kept" although a slight variation of the theme (to increase commercialization benefits from space technology) is considered by Politifact to be a "promise in the works." The same is true of the business focused promise to revise regulations for the export of aerospace technology, which Politifact also considers to be a "promise in the works."
- Promise: To work with international allies on the International Space Station (ISS) - The Obama administration has extended the operational life of the ISS to at least 2020 (which was a common wish among ISS partners) and encouraged co-operation with international allies. Politifact lists this as a "promise kept." Variations of this theme are included with promises to partner to enhance the potential of the ISS, use the ISS for fundamental biological and physical research, support commercial access to space for use of the ISS and explore whether the ISS can operate after 2016. According to Politifact, each of these variations is a "promise kept."
- Promise: To support manned space missions to the moon by 2020 - This likely isn't going to happen under the current administration and Politifact lists this as a "promise broken." However, a variation on this promise (a promise to increase spending to prepare for longer space mission which plays on the idea of exploration but doesn't define any specific destinations to explore) is listed as being a "promise kept" by Politifact.
- Various other science and educational focused promises to conduct robust research and development on future space missions, work toward deploying a global climate change research and monitoring system, enhance Earth mapping and establish school programs to highlight space and science achievements are each listed by Politifact as being a "promise kept." However, the promise to improve climate change data records (which includes a promise not to use climate change data for political purposes) is listed only as being "in the works."
It will be interesting how the emerging Republican presidential candidates assess the record listed above and begin to integrate alternative policy decisions into their campaign.