By Lamar Smith
According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, two out of three Americans believe our country is on the wrong track and nearly six in 10 say that the economy has not even started to recover. Under President Obama, 20 million Americans are out of work, underemployed, or given up looking for a job.
Another recent poll found that a majority of Americans believe that the United States should “continue to be a world leader in manned space exploration.”
These two polls — one about Americans’ sense of our country being on the wrong track and the other about American leadership in space — have more in common than you might think. America’s space program is on the wrong track. NASA’s industry partners have recently announced massive layoffs of many thousands of highly-skilled engineers and technicians who previously worked on the space shuttle as it now retires and on NASA’s canceled Constellation program. We are on the wrong track because these layoffs are due to the Obama administration diverting nearly $3 billion per year out of NASA’s manned spaceflight budget from what was planned under President Bush’s budget projection.
More importantly, NASA embodies the hopes and dreams of Americans for the new frontiers of space. In national polling, NASA enjoys a hugely positive approval rating, in the range of 65-75 percent — an amazing result for any government agency. However, when you ask people why, they are not really sure, but they have an innate sense that what NASA does is part of what makes our country great. At a fundamental level, NASA is in the inspiration business — a motivating example for young people to try what has never been done before. If we can go to the Moon, we can do almost anything.
So it is troubling to see what the Obama administration is doing to America’s manned spaceflight program. At a time when our nation seeks to inspire students to study math, science, and engineering, they only see NASA’s industry partners laying off thousands of aerospace engineers and technicians across the country. They see NASA paying Russian engineers and technician over $340 million a year to carry American astronauts and their equipment to the international space station. They see China building the world’s largest rocket with the Long March 5 along with a new launch complex on Hainan Island. In the words of America’s space heroes Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan and Jim Lovell just recently: “America’s leadership in space is slipping. NASA’s human spaceflight program is in substantial disarray with no clear-cut mission in the offing.”
President Obama’s Science Advisor John Holdren argues that there is not enough money to pay American workers to develop the crew vehicle and rockets necessary to maintain our nation’s leadership in space. But the truth is that the Obama administration is diverting nearly $3 billion each year out of NASA’s manned spaceflight program to fund other Administration programs. There is not enough money for young minds to reach for the stars.
Let’s be clear about what is going on. The reason why America’s space program is on the wrong track is because the Obama administration is ignoring the clear direction provided for America’s manned spaceflight program in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which passed on a bipartisan basis under a Democrat-controlled Congress last fall. Although the Obama administration fails to show any leadership in manned spaceflight, they at least need to follow the law.
Hopefully, the American people will hold the Obama administration accountable for their lack of leadership in our nation’s space program. America deserves to be inspired by the heavens again.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) chairs the House Judiciary Committee and is vice-chairman of the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee.