President Barack Obama has, by a small margin, been re-elected as US President.  Despite only just beating his Republican Party challenger, Mitt Romney, in the overall popular vole, the Democrat President held sway in the key swing states of Florida, Ohio etc. to give him a large majority in the key electoral college votes.

Having made some “foot-in-mouth” miss-steps early in his campaign and having made some policy errors before the election even began (most importantly by not agreeing to support intervention that helped the then beleagured US car industry), Mitt Romney, backed up by his Vice Presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, neverthless gave creditable performances as a hard worker, debator and speaker.  

Although the the poor economic situation was on his side, in the end, Mitt Romney was beaten because he failed to gain enough support from women, from the young, and especially from ethnic minorities (despite a growing middle class, the black vote was over 90% for Obama in most states, while Romney was also significantly behind in the Hispanic/Latino vote).  This effect was magnified by the efficient organisation by the Democrats in getting these voters to the polling stations.

Romney also suffered from a bit of meteorological bad luck.  By showing support to those suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, President Obama looked like a man who was in charge and a man who cared.  And, in doing so, he regained the initiative in the opinion polls.  

Bolden flip-flopped in his support for Obama which the President may not forget

As the Republican “Grand Old Party” (GOP) mounts an enquiry examining what when wrong in its campaign, there may yet be other losers after this election race.  One may yet be Major General Charles Bolden, the current Administrator of NASA,   For having prevoiusly noted at the International Astronautical Congress in Naples that he was very much President Obama’s man in being appointed by him, Bolden subsequently sought to distance himself from the current administration when a Romney victory started to look like a distinct possibility.  

According to the website/blog www.nasawatch.com when questioned about his political appointment at a briefing, Charles Bolden noted that he did not really see himself as a Democratic political appointee.  Bolden then went on to claim credit for brokering a deal between the present Administration and the US Senate (resulting in the commitment to develop the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift launch vehicle).  “If I had done what the President had wanted then NASA would just be a technology programme,” said Bolden.  President Obama will probably not like that apparently disloyal comment one bit, even if it is probably true.

Obama tried to take credit for space programme – but it was not all his doing

Although US Space Policy was only a bit part player in the election campaign, it did figure more prominently in the race in Florida given its “space coast” region.  Romney’s political attack on the current plan for the US space programme  was tempered by the fact that some of it, includng the promotion of private industry, was really already Republican policy.  On the other side, Obama could not really brag about his space achievments (though he tried) given that some of its more succesful elements e.g. the space caspule Orion, the promotion of commercial spaceflight, or the plan to bulid the SLS launch vehicle, actually came from past administrations, Republican think tanks, or elements in the US Senate.

The current US space plan, which is regarded by many as the best that could be done in the strained economic circumstances involves: encouraging commercial space industry to provide commercial launch capabilities to low Earth orbit; NASA developing key elements includng spacecraft and launch vehicles for a human space exploration programme to the Moon, passing asteroids and eventually to Mars (even if NASA can only afford to build one bit at a time); maintaining the US contribution to the International Space Station; having unmanned spacecraft programme to provide adequate defence, meteorological, environmental and exploratory capabilities, 

NASA may have to rethink its field centres but ISS will probably survive for now

While the current US programme is not a “magnificently rapid” way forward, it is one that is that is viewed as steady and well balanced and one that is just about affordable.  However, NASA is not out of the woods yet, despite Obama’s election victory. The most imminent issue that it faces is the possibility of “sequestration”: NASA could suffer from automatic cuts to government spending which will happen in January in the event that the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives, the Democrat-controlled US Senate and the re-elected President cannot agree a way forward.

Although the rest of his space policy attack was vague and weak, Romney was effective in noting NASA’s financial inefficiencies during his campaign.  As such NASA, will be having a long hard look at its own finances – including whether it can afford to have so many technical and field centres around the country.  Likewise, soon NASA and the White House will have to decide they want to commit to continuing funding of the International Space Station (ISS).  While the ISS is a drain on NASA resources that it would probably rather spend on its longer term space exploration plans, cutting it would probably result in diplomatic problems.  As it is, for the time being the ISS provides the only destination in orbit for commercial spaceflight to go.

So as we say congratulations to President Barack Obama, we hope he sees spaceflight as something worthwhile and worthy of his support.  Space is the future you see.