We're only too happy when the political debate turns to science, even if it means scrapping over who said what. The latest altercation began earlier this week when Obama announced that he was revising his position on the U.S. space program to include a "comprehensive space plan that includes $2 billion in new funding to reinvigorate NASA" as well as a "promise to make space exploration and science a significantly higher priority," according to the Washington Post. Details of the plan include finishing the International Space Station, supporting aeronautics research, and flying an additional shuttle mission to carry a $1.5 billion particle detector to the ISS. The plan marks a shift from Obama's position earlier in the campaign, when he proposed delaying NASA’s Constellation program in order to fund an $18 billion education plan—a proposal that was soon dropped. Still, McCain wasted no time in blasting his opponent for changing his position ("flip-flopping" accusations never seem to get old in politics) and proclaiming that by contrast, McCain himself would "ensure that space exploration remains a top priority and that the U.S. continues to lead the world in this field." Unfortunately for McCain, the Florida Democratic Party didn't quite share his optimism, given that the five-year gap that'll occur once the shuttle program ends in 2010 was created under McCain's watch as former Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff had the following to say:
“It’s a little late for John McCain to claim he would minimize the gap that he helped create or save the jobs he helped put in danger... If concerned Space Coast workers are looking for someone to blame for this poorly-thought-out plan, they need to look no further than John McCain.”
As we've mentioned before, Florida has a huge stake in NASA's well-being, and the state stands to lose thousands of jobs when the space shuttle program shuts down. Given that NASA is now making headlines in the presidential debate, it looked like Florida Sen. Bill Nelson's tactic—harping on the fact that cutting NASA programs means relying on the Russians for access to space—worked just fine.