"NASA's obstacle is not a technology barrier - rather it is a barrier of financial abilities. Space activities require decades of planning. Short-term constraints of a political agenda do not address this necessity."
-- Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, in "Roll Call"
This method of doing things might have been a reasonable sell to Cold War America in the early 60's, when national pride and national security was at stake. After July 20th, 1969, however, when the U.S. officially "won" the Space Race, the American public, inundated daily with media reports of domestic unrest, political corruption and the Vietnam body counts, rapidly lost interest. Funding was dropped for political expediency, and our first real beachhead in space was lost, not to mention the loss to science and business interests. Although long term improvements to individual living standards as a result of "spinoff" technologies were clearly demonstrable, the taxpaying citizen either missed the connection between them or was simply unimpressed by it.
Today we have a generation coming of age who has never known a Cold War. The current world situation and the U.S.' "War on Terror" notwithstanding, most nations in the world no longer perceive any other single nation as being a genuine threat to their way of life. As national security and pride are no longer the issues they once were, mass impetus for taxpayer funding of manned interplanetary exploration and/or settlement has flagged. The American lunar experience set the standard for "public political attention span" i.e., 8-10 years. No other project or program initiated by governments of western-style democracies has managed to retain active public attention for anywhere close to that length of time.
The GFAU model is a "non-inclusive" approach
GFAU perpetuates two very powerful myths:
The largest drawback
In seeking only government/taxpayer funding, space advocates are constantly doing battle every year with all the other agenda-laden special interest groups who have, in many cases, decades more experience at fighting those public-trough battles than space advocates do.
As an example: Most Mars Society members are professional people in the sciences, engineering, computing, or the arts, and have, effectively, little experience in hardball political wrangling (although they are getting better all the time). Compared to the entrenched social-agenda special interests, however, the space activist constituency is relatively small, and to date, not nearly as loud or as well financed.
All their opposition
need do to overwhelm the space advocate's call for a renewal of a 60's-era
"New Frontier" is to trot out statistics on falling U.S. education
standards, photos of hungry kids and homeless people, energy delivery
problems in California, corporate "mismanagement", and a decaying
infrastructure. Combine this with a liberal dose of the words "national
debt" or "entitlements"
and it's all over. The opposition gets the funding, space does not.
If events surrounding current space appropriations bills are any indication,
the political will to make a manned mission to Mars occur won't be forthcoming
either from this, or any future U.S. Congress in this generation. (former
NASA chief Dan Goldin, in 2000, declared the agency could place a man
on Mars by 2020, but NASA has neither the Congressional mandate nor
the budget to do so.)
In terms of practical
reality , politicians only respond to two things - dollars and bodies.
If the Mars Society had 250,000 paying members as opposed to the 5,000
they currently claim, politicians would be more likely to sit up and
Does this mean that any sort of political lobbying is a waste of time and money for space advocacy groups? Not necessarily. It all depends on what you're lobbying for. If you're just pushing to get NASA a bigger budget and a Mars mandate, that may be a big uphill struggle, with no long-term benefits for society as a whole. However, if you lobby for legislation that makes it easier for market-oriented commercial infrastructure initiatives to grow and flourish, that's a different story entirely, as the society as a whole will benefit economically from the building of that new sector. It creates jobs and builds wealth.
"Special interests take care of the politicians who take care of them. There's one problem: most special interests thrive at the expense of taxpayers or the competitors that they're protected from. Most special interests don't want a level playing field. They want to fix the game so they always win."
-- Jo Jorgensen
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