Politics was not dominated by space during 2012, but they were a factor. The elephant in the room was, of course, November’s US Presidential Election. Given that the swing state of Florida had a key interest, space policy was s discussion point. However, Democrat President Obama won again more because he managed to court the Hispanic community’s vote across all states rather than due to any criticism of his space (or economic) policy by his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. As it was, even Obama could not claim full credit for his space policy mainly because it had been either derived from Republican party thinking, or had apparently been imposed on him by the US Senate.
While space may have been an also-ran this year, next year space could feature in major political headlines, that is, if the “Fiscal Cliff’ tax rises and spending cuts occur which will threaten the US Space Programme. These “sequestration” cuts automatically come into law in January if a budget deal on lesser cuts is not hammered out in the US Congress by the end of December. As it was, NASA had to fight off attempts to limit funding commercial crew transport development. In the end it plumped for two and a half teams to fund including SpaceX, Boeing and with Sierra Nevada getting the half ticket.
Of the smaller space political stories, there was the heart warming decision by the US Government to pass a law to let former NASA employees and Apollo astronauts hold title on their mission momentos after NASA had previously overzealoulsly pursued thes former NASA heroes, some of which were trying sell these items to cover family medical costs.
Growing public anger in the United Kingdom over India’s growing space programme including planned probes to Mars, and plans to launch its own astronauts, led to the UK government signalling that it would be soon ending its financial aid to the nation. The UK itself saw its own future in space as it increased its space spending and elected to take part in manned spaceflight via its contribution to an ESA service module design for NASA’s Orion space capsule.
In Russia,Putin retained power, though there were major protests over the suspect nature of the election. Meanwhile, internal political machinations continue inside the Russian space industry with some of the enemies of General Vladimir Popovkin, head of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, gleefully taking advantage of an incident in which he was injured at a party, alleging that it was either while he was fighting over a woman or that he had drunkenly fallen on the stairs.
Wars and the threat of war were ever present. To international protest, North Korea managed to put its first spacecraft into orbit on its Taepodong 3 (Uhna-3) launch vehicle in December, which proved that the nation could probably put a sizeable nuclear warhead on Tokyo if it so wished.
Meantime, as Syria’s civil war broke the nation apart its government was detected by satellite as firing on its own citizens, at first with artillery pieces, and latterly with Scud-class ballistic missiles. In Israel, the David’s Sling anti-missile system proved its worth against inbound short range rockets fired from their Hamas opponents in Gaza.
Even more seriously, the potential for war between Israel (and its allies) with Iran remains as the latter apparently continues with its alleged nuclear weapons programme. Iran will, however, not be powerless, as it works on ballistic missiles deliberately designed to take out naval and merchant ships in the Persian Gulf – which in turn threatens to turn off a major portion of the World’s oil supply.