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Election 2008

Debate Questions: Worth the Effort?

By Keith Cowing
February 1, 2008

Editor’s note: Well, there were no space questions asked in the Republican debate. But you can still vote for questions to be asked of the Democratic candidates on Thursday evening here. As it happened, no space-related questions were offered for final vote to be asked of Sen. Clinton. However, two space-related questions were among the finalists offered for voting for Sen. Obama.

Editor’s update: Well, there were no space questions asked in the Democratic debate either. Was it worth your collective effort? Two space questions did make it to the top of the heap such that people could vote on them tonight. That is certainly a first – and there was the preponderance of space questions that managed to hold onto top positions for weeks on – also unprecedented.

But to me, the most important thing was a demonstration – by all of those people who submitted and voted for space-related questions – that space exploration advocates could exert this common surge of effort and help raise the issue of space exploration in a way that has not been seen in the past. Neither party has picked a nominee. And there is still a general election after they do. The opportunities to exert similar – and perhaps greater influence will continue.

You did it once, you can do it again.

What’s The Point?, Political Action For Space

“I’m proud of what has happened, and I feel encouraged that sustaining our efforts throughout this election and beyond will bear greater fruits. I pledge to you all that I will continue my efforts running to make it easier for you to have an impact on the future of the space exploration. I look forward to the continued help and participation for you all. Thanks for your incredible response for the debates in Los Angeles.”

Comments? Send them to Your comments so far:

Keith, imagine what would have happened if one of the space questions, esp. one of the bolder ones, had made it into either debate: The discussion would most certainly have turned quickly to the cost and relative(!) benefits of – crewed – spaceflight vs. other more pressing needs. Does anyone really believe that any of the remaining candidates would have said something like “hey, I’ll get the U.S. out of the Iraq mess quickly and then we can spend all the billions saved on a Mars colony”? The effort to convince politics that going to Mars ASAP or the VSE or ALT.VSE or some other crewed space activity is really worth it has to start at a much more fundamental level IMHO: You’ve got to convince the broad public first and start with its more space-friendly faction. Even there a lot of work lies ahead, as the debate on crewed vs. robotic or rather the best proportion of the two is far from settled even in the space advocacy groups.

Regarding the rants against Politico and CNN here and elsewhere: I guess they very well understood that there was a massive campaign from space groups going on (after all even the ‘real media’ like Space News reported about it!) and thus decided that the huge amount of space votes did not reflect the priorities of their audience in general. Has anyone seen a poll on voters’ priorities where the answers could be chosen freely and where space ended up near the top or in the list at all?

Daniel Fischer (U.S. campaign news junkie & space afficionado from Germany)


I can’t see any comment from Politico on how they selected questions, and why none of the top space questions were asked. Is there any explanation from these people? How can they seriously entertain the idea of generating the question list by user votes, when they neither follow through or even comment on user input after the fact. At least they should say ‘thanks for all your time, effort, and interest on our site, but we thought up some better questions at the last minute’.

Also, what evidence is there that anyone, let alone the campaign organizations, are aware of the level of interest in space related questions. I never saw any statistics regarding how many votes there were for any of the questions, or any comments attempting to head off the notion that a few space geeks flooded the site early. I assume that there were many, many votes for space q’s, and that the process was ‘fair’ (1 vote per IP address), but I don’t see any comment by Politico attesting to this, so how do I know that the candidates haven’t blown off the stories in Wired and elswhere that there was such a surge in interest? Have any of the candidates made any comments about the number of space question submissions and votes, or is this more space obscurity?

For that matter, do you know if any of them read your web site? Am I actually on a different planet than they are?

“Maybe the Republicans are right about the media.”What, that the news media is biased and they have their own agendas?Of course they are and they do! It is impossible to report ANYTHING without the message getting infused withthe messenger’s attitudes and outlook, however fair and balanced they truly think themselves to be.

Such is the nature of communication. What is so refreshing about folks like Keith Cowing, andso damnably irritating about the mainstreamreporters and their supporting organizations, is that Keith almost always owns up to where he’s coming from, while the otherscontinue to insist with straight faces that they are unbiased and aloof and are merelypresenting “the facts.”Let us not forget what WilliamRandolf Hearst (often considered one of the fathers of yellow journalism*)said more than a century ago regardingthe Spanish-AmericanWar: “You provide the pictures and I’ll provide the war.”

*a redundant term if I’ve ever heard one…

Asdisappointed as I have been through the years with so many politicians and ineffective leaders in all disciplines (including spaceflight),I reserve my strongest contempt for the”news” media and what they’ve been pulling over on the American peoplefor decades.The only problem, justlike democracy is the worst form ofgovernment except for all the others, is that a free society needs a free press (biased as it inevitably is) to remain free. Luckily, the new media avenues (including this one) are exerting a detectable, positiveinfluenceon the mainstream ones, and that is a good thing.

Asfor the debate questions: I concur that the effort was not a waste. GettingANY exposure helps make in-roads into the American public’s consciousness, which is the first necessary step to having them value space programs andin turncreate a demand for more investment in space.And as Keith pointed out: it ain’t over yet.

Hi Keith,

I too was rather taken aback given the fact that space policy questions were not asked during either of the presidential debates. I however would say that all of the time I fired off questions and voted however WAS worth it.

At least all of the candidates know that space program supporters are out there and not just working for space or defense contractors. They also know that the direction the country takes our space program is important. Above all they ALL know that we vote, we’re watching, we’re vocal, and we’re not going away. I will be writing all of the candidates using the links on on how I feel on this issue.

Thanks again for posting the link to ask debate questions on your site.

Keith: Despite the fact that no space-related questions were asked, I think it is likely that the candidates’ teams studied the list of highly ranked potential questions and prepared answers for them. These prepared answers would have had to be thought-out and vetted within the campaigns such that they would become policy positions. So, assuming the answers were pro-space, the effort was worthwhile.

How do we start a campaign now against CNN and They deceived the people. 20 of the top 25 most popular questions on the Democrat side were about the Space Program and NASA, and they ignored us. Maybe Republicans are right about the media. I’m personally disgusted. Thanks for pointing us all in the direction of the site, even if they did ignore us.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.