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“They just want to keep the jobs going,” he said. “So they’re having NASA build a new rocket that the Senate designed whose primary mission is to provide jobs in Alabama, Utah and Florida.

“In theory, it’s supposed to be used for a manned mission. The problem is, no mission was designed, and there’s no payload specified for it or funded,” he added. “There’s no funding for things like landers, any of the things that we really need to open up space.”

The situation is unlikely to be fixed by whoever occupies the White House during the next four years, said Robert S. Walker, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who chaired the House Committee on Science and Technology.

“In the case of Obama,” said Mr. Walker, “his main focus on this has been political.”

The president gave an inspirational space speech in Florida and followed the recommendations of analysts to close down the Constellation Program, but “beyond congratulating the people who put Curiosity down on Mars and congratulating NASA on some of its success with the commercial piece of the work, he and his White House have not spent much work on this.”

“Florida is a key state for [Mr. Obama], so he’s focused on whether or not he can present a good enough story to keep the Floridians happy,” Mr. Walker said.

When it comes to Mr. Obama’s challenger, he said, it has been “very difficult to figure out where the space issue rests with the inner circle of Romney’s campaign and with the candidate himself.”

“The team of advisers he put around himself in the primaries is a mixed bag of people,” he said. “None of them have really been authorized to speak for the campaign on space issues.”

Dave Boyer contributed to this report.