The 'Gravity' of Obama's mistaken space policy

I recently had a chance to watch the space-themed film "Gravity," starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

Leaving aside the multitude of technical errors in the film, as someone who has consulted in the space business for a number years, I always welcome it when Hollywood brings much needed attention to human spaceflight and its importance to us as a people and a nation.


That said, as the film played, I wondered if others would also find the casting and script as ironic and troubling as I did. While Ms. Bullock works hard to keep her political views private while quite possibly being the most decent and generous person in the film business, Mr. Clooney has never made it a secret that he is an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

I am an independent conservative who is not fond of either party, but I have always found Clooney's voice welcome, reasoned and civil where so many other liberals in his profession come off as shrill, uninformed and programmed to bash conservatives, Christians or the Republican Party at the first sighting of a reporter or microphone.


As I watched Mr. Clooney play an astronaut in the cinematically stunning film featuring the Space Shuttle, I wondered in what time period such a plot would take place? Certainly not during the presidency of Barack Obama, as Mr. Obama and his assistants have basically shut down our entire human spaceflight program.

To his credit, Mr. Obama has never hidden his lack of interest in human spaceflight. Back in 2007, while running for president, then-candidate Obama proposed paying for his $18 billion education program by taking the money from NASA. Said Mr. Obama, "We're not going to have engineers and scientists to continue space exploration if we don't have kids who are able to read, write and compute."

Mr. Obama certainly had a valid point. Unfortunately, the reality for him and all of us is that in 2013, education is worse while the U.S. manned space fleet has been mothballed and our once "preeminent space program," as articulated and realized by President John F. Kennedy, has become a shadow of its former self.

As the movie came to a close, it was repeatedly reinforced to me that President Obama had made a serious error in judgment which may very well adversely affect our nation for decades to come.

Without giving away any of the plot, I found it amusing and very telling that later in the film, China and elements of its manned space program play a significant and positive role.

Should Mr. Clooney or President Obama not realize it, this would be the same People's Republic of China that labors day and night to hack into our most sensitive and classified government and corporate computer networks. This would be the same People's Republic of China whose manned space program is entirely run by its military with every manned flight having a military objective. This would be the same People's Republic of China which knows that no country on earth is more dependent upon its satellites in Earth orbit for its national and financial security than the United States. This would be the same People's Republic of China perfecting the destruction of satellites in Earth orbit. This would be the same People's Republic of China which has announced its plans to build manned bases on the moon.

While the movie "Gravity" showcased spacecraft and policies that are now relics of a glorious past, China has created a new reality that has their policies and their military stepping into the vacuum in space created by President Obama.

Douglas MacKinnon is a former White House and Pentagon official and a long-time consultant on space. His email is