The Obama Administration has also encouraged NASA to hand over crew and cargo activities in low-Earth orbit (LEO) to private American companies. The aim is to fill the void left by the 2011 retirement of the space shuttle program, which was set in motion by President George W. Bush back in 2004.
NASA has doled out a total of $1.4 billion in the past two years to firms developing crewed vehicles. The agency wants at least two crewed commercial spaceships to be up and running by 2017; until then, the United States will remain dependent on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to provide this orbital taxi service.
The progress has been faster on the cargo front, with California-based SpaceX completing the first of 12 contracted supply flights to the International Space Station with its robotic Dragon capsule last month. NASA has also inked a resupply deal with Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp., which aims to launch a demonstration mission to the orbiting lab in the coming months.
Romney's campaign team released a space policy paper in late September. The eight-page document pledges to ensure that the United States remains the world leader in space exploration and space capabilities.