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Setting Priorities for Space Research: Opportunities and Imperatives (Chapter 1) Setting Priorities for Space Research Opportunities and Imperatives 1 Setting the Course for Space Research In response to national goals set more than three decades ago, the U.S. space program and its space research components have produced remarkable scientific and technological achievements. Apollo propelled the United States into a position of world technological leadership. Scientific missions have surveyed the heavens and the Earth itself, sending back information that has given us deeper understanding of the nature of our physical world and the universe around us. Success in space science and applications has generated even greater opportunities for future accomplishment. Now, for the years ahead, we must decide what we should do and how we should do it. The fundamental assumption shaping the U.S. civil space program, and consequently space research, was expressed in the Apollo era "as the manifestation of a vision—the vision that our human destiny is to explore the universe."1 In this context, the military metaphor of "mission" has been used to refer to all space activities, including REPORT MENU scientific research. The use of this term emphasizes the penetration of a difficult domain, NOTICE rather than the information and knowledge to be acquired. The Apollo perspective MEMBERSHIP continues to guide the program; the Space Station is intended to provide "a permanent PREFACE manned presence" in space, and the President has set the "long-range goal of expanding SUMMARY human presence and activity beyond Earth orbit into the Solar system."2 CHAPTER 1 CHAPTER 2 Unfortunately, the goals and accomplishments of the scientific community have CHAPTER 3 sometimes been constrained by the Apollo vision. Scientific efforts focus on the outcome of CHAPTER 4 an activity (e.g., an experiment, observation, simulation, or derivation) by concentrating on CHAPTER 5 the knowledge or understanding to be gained. The successful flight of a spacecraft conveying scientific experiments is a means to that end. The space program serves a variety of important national goals, including fostering national pride and prestige, developing and maintaining economic and technological vitality, and generating scientific information and understanding. The issue addressed here is not the relative value of the human spaceflight or space research components of the program. Rather, this report seeks to contribute to the development of a vision along with objectives and operating principles that will assist the nation in realizing the maximum benefits from its investment in space research and other space activities. The value of any initiative or activity in the space program is measured by the extent to which it serves national goals. Initiatives that advance all of these goals should be preferable to those with more limited contributions. From the national perspective, a scientific mission that is technologically challenging may be preferable to one that employs routine capabilities. In turn, a crewed file:///C|/SSB_old_web/prio1ch1.htm (1 of 6) [6/21/2004 10:00:40 AM]

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Setting Priorities for Space Research: Opportunities and Imperatives (Chapter 1) mission or a facility with a governing scientific purpose will be more valuable than one that demonstrates technological capability alone. Thus scientific research may be served by both crewed and robotic missions that concentrate on the timely acquisition of information and scientific and technical knowledge, and these objectives are compatible with all aspects of the civil space program. Furthermore, these objectives should determine how access to space is achieved and how scientific research in space is ultimately conducted. This report examines some of the issues involved in setting priorities within the scientific research in space program and, to the degree that it is relevant, within the entire space program. Priorities, in the sense used here, are rankings in a preferential ordering or agenda, possibly multidimensional, that governs allocation of resources to activities or initiatives. A system of priorities appropriate for scientific research in space or for the entire space program would be more sophisticated than a simple rank ordering. Priorities are intimately related to basic assumptions about purpose and motivation. For the space program and for space research, such assumptions may determine events more powerfully than judgments based on scientific merit or national values or shaped by the imperatives of changing economic and political conditions. For example, an emphasis on transport to space led to the launching of several scientific research vehicles (e.g., Galileo, Magellan, Ulysses, and Hubble) by the Space Shuttle regardless of whether the Shuttle was appropriate to the scientific task. The contemplation of priorities that might produce an effective agenda for space research, or for the entire space program, must include examination of fundamental assumptions and the opportunities and constraints consequent upon them. DEFINITIONS The U.S. space program—the totality of the national efforts in space research, applications, and engineering and technology for activities in space. The civil space program—the civilian (nondefense) components of the space program. The human spaceflight program—those components of the space program that involve the flight of humans in space vehicles. Space research—Scientific activities concerned with phenomena in space, or utilizing observations obtained in, or from, space, including the use of information derived from space to advance other activities. Research in space involves observation, development of scientific instruments and scientific support technology, data management and analysis, creation of theories and models concerning phenomena observed from space, and application of space observations to further economic or socially beneficial activities. Space science and applications—Here, synonymous with space research. file:///C|/SSB_old_web/prio1ch1.htm (2 of 6) [6/21/2004 10:00:40 AM]

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Setting Priorities for Space Research: Opportunities and Imperatives (Chapter 1) The task group's studies of priorities in space research have led it to believe that the nation would benefit if space research and much of the space program emphasized the acquisition of information and knowledge and the development of insight and understanding. Adopting the acquisition of information that cannot be obtained on Earth as the primary purpose of space activities is compatible with national needs to develop advanced technologies and capabilities. Most significantly, such a purpose provides clear objectives for future development of the human spaceflight program. As illustrated in Chapter 2, observations from space reveal an unexpected and wondrous complexity. The objects and phenomena we have studied have turned out to be much more complex than imagined. The goal of research is to unravel this complexity, to understand its implications and to discover principles or points of view that will render it comprehensible. To do so will require an abundant flow of information from space and the capability to use it effectively. Observational and informational systems must be created to interact effectively: "The satellite and the computer are a natural partnership; one provides data, the other makes sense of it."3 Thus an effective model for scientific research in space will emphasize the acquisition, management, and use of information from space to enhance human knowledge and understanding. It will enable us to focus on this critical commodity of the contemporary world. The acceptance of this governing objective for scientific research in space will assist in establishing priorities. It is evident that such priorities are necessary because current opportunities for scientific research in space demand far more resources than are likely to be available in even the most optimistic scenario. Table 1.1 summarizes the entire spectrum of NASA space science missions now active or expected by NASA planners to be launched before the year 2000. Figure 1.1 shows that the expected increase in funding required to complete present missions and to implement and launch the missions already approved for new starts exceeds an annual growth rate of 15 percent. Future new starts will require an even greater rate of increase in the budget for space research. The increased funds required to maintain or expand the program may not be available. In commenting on the NASA budget for fiscal year 1991, the Appropriations Conference Committee of the 101st Congress observed:4 It is essential that the agency recognize that the budget crisis is only beginning. The five-year budget agreement assumes an annual growth rate in domestic discretionary spending . . . of approximately five to seven percent. That fact suggests that the maximum annual growth in NASA's budget cannot exceed eight to ten percent. TABLE 1.1 NASA Scientific Missions—1990 to 2000 file:///C|/SSB_old_web/prio1ch1.htm (3 of 6) [6/21/2004 10:00:40 AM]

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Setting Priorities for Space Research: Opportunities and Imperatives (Chapter 1) Active Planned as of for 1991 Field December 1990 to 2000 Total Space physics 6 17 23 Planetary and lunar science 8 4 12 Earth sciences 2 24 26 Astrophysics 6 9 15 Life sciences 0 4 4 TOTAL 22 58 80 SOURCE: General Accounting Office. 1989. Space Operations: Listing of NASA Scientific Missions, 1980-2000, GAO/IMTEC-89-46FS (U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.) April. FIGURE 1.1 Funding (in $million) required to maintain the space research program, including missions now in flight and new starts already approved. SOURCE: Office of Space Science and Applications, NASA. Thus it appears clear that NASA and the nation will have to choose among scientific research initiatives and other components of the space program. In recognition of these realities, the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program recommended that science activity be "the fulcrum of the entire civil space effort." As justification, the committee argued that5 . . . the space science program warrants the highest priority for funding. It, in our judgment, ranks above space stations, aerospace planes, manned file:///C|/SSB_old_web/prio1ch1.htm (4 of 6) [6/21/2004 10:00:40 AM]

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Setting Priorities for Space Research: Opportunities and Imperatives (Chapter 1) missions to the planets, and many other major pursuits which often receive greater visibility. It is this endeavor in science that enables basic discovery and understanding, that uncovers the fundamental knowledge of our own planet to improve the quality of life for all people on earth, and that stimulates the education of the scientists needed for the future. Science gives vision, imagination, and direction to the space program and as such should be vigorously protected and permitted to grow, holding at or somewhat above its present fraction of NASA's budget even as the overall space budget grows. If this recommendation is followed and there is a stronger focus on space research, then the necessity for making difficult choices will be even more urgent. There are many opportunities in space research, and thus we need a procedure by which to select those that are most valuable. The community of scientists engaged in scientific research in space should reach a consensus on priorities and thereby contribute to the formulation of an agenda for space research and for the space program. Such an agenda and the priorities it represents will need to respond to national needs and to the larger priorities of the national agenda. The two key questions in space research, as in most continuing endeavors, are: What should we do? How should we do it? As argued above, the priorities that determine what we choose to do reflect our values. The methods we then adopt, and often our successes, are also determined by the vision and purpose that guide our activities. Careful consideration and formulation of assumptions and priorities for the scientific research program and the overall space program that supports it will enable us to better serve national goals, compel effective action, achieve the maximum return on our national investment, and inspire our citizenry. NOTES 1. Byerly, Radford, Jr. 1989. "Introduction," in Space Policy Reconsidered, R. Byerly, Jr., ed. (Westview Press, Boulder, Colo.) p. 3. 2. The White House, National Space Policy, November 2, 1989. 3. "What's a Heaven For?," The Economist 319 (June 15, 1991): 3. 4. Appropriations Conference Committee of the 101st Congress. 1990. Conference Report 101-900 to Accompany H.R. 5158, "Making Appropriations for the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies for FY 1991" (U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.) p. 41. 5. Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program. 1990. Summary and Principal Recommendations on the Future of the U.S. Space Program (Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.). file:///C|/SSB_old_web/prio1ch1.htm (5 of 6) [6/21/2004 10:00:40 AM]