Whether it is President Obama, Edwards or Clinton the next US president is going to have to wrestle with the questions, why do we have manned spaceflight, what is it for and what do we want to pay for?
From January 2009 the good money is on Hillary Rodham Clinton to win with her name recognition, substantial electoral funding war chest and political experience.
Whether New York Senator Rodham Clinton wins or not the new president will face a NASA that is part way through a difficult transition, not enough money to do what it has been asked to do and a return to the Moon programme that was the initiative of president George W. Bush
The knee jerk response is that Clinton's desire to extend health care provision will see NASA funding slashed and the Constellation programme dropped and a continuation of Space Shuttle beyond Bush's plan of a 2010 retirement to see out the International Space Station (ISS).
But there is one problem with this. Before the 2003 Shuttle Columbia disaster NASA intended to fly Shuttle to 2020. It had its Orbital Space Plane (OSP) programme to develop a replacement for Shuttle. And if the US intends to have manned spaceflight it will take much of the next decade to fund the cheapest option, alongside a Shuttle programme, which is the Orion crew exploration vehicle and its Ares I launcher. A debate could be had about whether Orion/Ares is the cheapest system or if NASA's Commerical Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) programme can deliver but for now Orion/Ares has had substantial work carried out and is further along in development than COTS.
There is one problem with this policy though, Orion/Ares will come on stream just as ISS ends its ten-year operational life, assuming assembly complete in 2010 and NASA ending its involvement in 2020.
What does NASA do then? No Shuttle, no space station, one low Earth orbit capable capsule launching system. To go where? The Moon? I doubt it, I can't see Clinton carrying on where Bush left off. Democrats might not hate the Moon but they are not going to give Bush's policies tender loving care.
The Democrat space policy answer could be, go commercial. By 2020 Bigelow Aerospace could have a commercial space complex, based on its inflatable spacecraft technology, orbiting the Earth. But how to get there? Clinton could redirect NASA to use its transportation system efforts towards creating a LEO economy. It would certainly wrong foot the Republican party who like to be seen as the "free market is king" champions.
So what could happen, how would it work out? Lockheed Martin has been asked by Bigelow to think about using a man-rated Lockheed Atlas V booster to send a capsule to an inflatable space station. I'm fairly sure Lockheed looked at man-rating Atlas V under OSP so it has some substantial studies under its belt. And Lockheed is developing the Orion for NASA and at the second space exploration conference in Houston last year NASA associate administrator for exploration systems, Scott Horowitz, told me he would be happy for Orion technology, systems to be used in a commercial capsule.
See where I am going? But NASA and Clinton could go one better. Rejig the US technology export rules to ensure the Russians could fly people and cargo to a Bigelow complex. I don't know for sure but I would not surprised if the Iran-Syria non-proliferation act meant that some people got hot under the collar about the Bigelow space station modules, which is originally NASA technology, using a Russian docking system and having Russians crawl around the new commercial station.
But to create a LEO economy a commercially orientated US space programme will have to have many different nationalities, South Koreans, Brazilians, Ukrainians, western Europeans and even the Chinese fly, aboard the launch vehicle of their choice to the space station of their choice.