Sunday, March 06, 2016

Say Splunge! 13 Space Orgs Release White Paper Advocating Nothing

          By Henry Stewart

A coalition of thirteen US space advocacy groups has released a slim white paper on space policy with the intent to avoid the appearance of indecisiveness, while not offending anyone or encouraging any real action.

Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham speaks at a March 4th, 2016 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC to discuss a space policy white paper developed by a coalition of 13 organizations. Members include the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), the Aerospace States Association (ASA), the American Astronautical Society (AAS), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, the Colorado Space Coalition, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), the Satellite Industry Association (SIA), the Silicon Valley Space Business Roundtable, the Space Angels Network (SAN), Space Florida, the Space Foundation and the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). Photo c/o AIAA.

As outlined in the March 4th, 2016 Space News post, "Organizations offer space policy white paper to US presidential candidates," the white paper, under the title, "Ensuring US Leadership in Space," mostly just asked for stability and hoped that space issues would "not become a topic in this year’s US presidential campaign."

Also as outlined in the article, the major US Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have said little about space policy in the current campaign. None have yet released policy papers about civil or military space and have addressed the topic only in passing in campaign speeches or town hall meetings.

And while some space advocates have bemoaned that lack of public discussion about space, it’s a situation the coalition members expressly want to encourage. 

According to Space Foundation, CEO Elliot Pulham, who heads one of the organizations involved in the creation of the white paper, "to some extent, the purpose of this (the white paper) is not to have space become a big presidential issue.” 

The goal, he said, is to instead have presidential candidates “embrace the space program because it is quintessentially American.” According to Pulham, “we thought it would be a good time to have a platform of information out there that all candidates could refer to, learn from and take to heart as they plan their campaigns.

In this classic Monty Python comedy sketch, the cowardly writers at a major Hollywood studio say "splunge," whenever asked by the studio founder (Graham Chapman in a Texan "cattleman" cowboy hat) to critique his idea for an upcoming movie. They all end up fired anyway. Screenshot c/o You-Tube.

Certainly the actual document is a five page fount of political platitudes. According to it, US leadership in space is at risk because of budget uncertainty, international competition, the space operating environment (an "increasingly congested, contested, and competitive domain") and workforce trends.

And the specifics of any of the potential solutions are intentionally avoided.

The solutions instead require "predictable budgets," a "continued global space engagement," the restoration of American access to space (by fully funding the NASA space launch system, the commercial crew and cargo programs and anything else NASA might like to try), the continued use of "fully competitive, innovative partnerships" (whatever that means) along with "strengthening and growing" the domestic industrial base for space companies.

Of course, platitudes do have their place. In the classic Monty Python sketch "Splunge," the head of a fictitious Hollywood studio browbeats his writers until one of them creates a made up word meaning "it's a great idea but possibly not and I'm not being indecisive" to respond to questions.

And that might be the real lesson of the white paper. The thirteen US space advocacy groups which contributed to its creation might have just learned a useful lesson.

They have learned to say "splunge." It's a good word.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym for a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

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