Zaina Adamu, CNN
Both President Obama and Mitt Romney remained mostly silent when it came to discussing concrete space-related plans while on their political campaign trails this year. But both candidates did release space policy papers, which outline their vision for the future of NASA and space exploration.
They both agree that partnering with private sectors is good for U.S. space programs. In other issues, though, there are clear distinctions.
Here’s a look at each candidate’s position on space exploration.
According to “Securing U.S. Leadership in Space,” an eight-page paper Romney’s campaign released earlier this year, he wants to revitalize NASA from an administration that has a “lack of strategic focus.”
While there are no tangible plans listed, the document focuses on two key issues: space exploration in correlation to global leadership and the future of NASA under a Romney administration. Two pages of the paper ousts the president’s current policies, stating that Obama’s “lack of leadership has had a debilitating impact on NASA.”
To fix this, the Republican nominee wants to restructure NASA’s priorities.
“Because space is vital to our national interests and provides important benefits to science and innovation, protecting these interests and securing these benefits requires a clear and credible space policy that addresses civil, commercial, and national security activities,” he wrote in an introductory letter preceding the paper.
The paper states that under his administration, he will create a balance between essential science measures and revolutionary exploration programs.
The former Massachusetts governor also seeks to create and maintain solid relationships with other space exploring countries. These partnerships, the paper says, will allow countries to accomplish “mutually beneficial goals.”
Romney’s campaign says a strong security system is critical in order for NASA to thrive. He plans to oversee national security programs and manage the development of a system that will dissuade enemies seeking to harm U.S. space programs.
Following SpaceX’s victorious Dragon spacecraft, Romney will support the private sector’s participation in space-related projects, the paper says. He will allow NASA to license its technology in support of the sector.
“All Americans should take extraordinary pride in the contributions of private sector innovation to our nation’s accomplishments in space,” he’s quoted as saying in the paper. “The successful docking of the SpaceX capsule with the International Space Station was an achievement on par with any in recent memory.”
Unlike his opponent, Romney doesn’t plan on giving NASA any more money annually. Instead, he wants to create a more defined plan for NASA and reallocate funding within its budget.
“Many of our national security space programs are significantly over budget and behind schedule,” the paper reads. To fix this, the paper says ,“NASA does not require more funding, it needs clearer priorities.”
At the Florida Republican presidential debate, Romney mocked his then-rival Newt Gingrich’s idea to build a colony on the moon.
“I spent 25 years in business,” Romney said. “If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars on the moon, I’d say ‘You’re fired.’”
The paper concludes that the changes Romney implements will create job growth and give America’s space program a strong competitive edge – an edge his running mate Congressman Paul Ryan says is gone.
“We don’t have that right now,” Ryan said to an audience at the University of Central Florida in September. “Look at what we’ve gotten out of this.”
In an attack against the current administration, Ryan expressed that “President Obama campaigned around Florida, around the space coast in 2008 – made lots of promises. This is another one of those broken promises.”
While in office, Obama proposed to add $6 billion to NASA’s budget until 2015 while making budget cuts in other state departments.
In 2010 he terminated NASA’s Constellation program, a mission that would have put astronauts on the moon by 2020. Instead, he called for the creation of the Space Launch System, a rocket that will provide humans the capability to travel to places outside Earth’s orbit.
According to his administration’s National Space Policy, he will improve space-based technology that monitors the Earth to help predict unforeseen weather forecasts and drastic changes in climate.
“We will increase Earth-based observation to improve our understanding of our climate and our world-science that will garner tangible benefits, helping us to protect our environment for future generations,” he said at a 2010 event at the Kennedy Space Center, a facility he wants to revamp with a multibillion-dollar budget.
To maintain global leadership in the communications and service fields, Obama outlined a plan to provide constant use of global positioning systems free of charge to direct users. He also wants funding to maintain back-up systems in the event of possible malfunctions and natural disasters.
The Obama administration proposed to extend the International Space Station in order to perform “advanced research that can help improve the lives of people here on Earth, as well as testing and improving upon our capabilities in space.”
As far as the private sector, Obama wants it to take control of the station. This plan would take the place of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, which completed its mission in 2011.
To preserve space’s environment, Obama plans to push research on reducing on-orbit debris, thus lessening hazards on Earth and on the International Space Station.
Additionally, Obama will create space nuclear power systems that will augment space exploration, according to the space policy paper.
He will partner with the Secretary of Energy to adhere to safety measures before the launch of nuclear power systems in space.
“Some have said, for instance, that this plan gives up on our leadership in space by failing to produce plans within NASA to reach low orbit instead of relying on companies and other countries,” he said at the event.
But he continued to emphasize that the plan will allow humans to “reach space faster and more often,” and that the plan would “help improve our technological capacity and lower our costs, which are both essential for the long-term sustainability of space flight.”