The matter of balance between new exploration priorities and science opportunities, between new priorities and responsibilities, is very difficult to tackle. I believe the best way to approach this matter, as is emphasized in our workshop report, is to move forward on the human exploration front at a deliberate pace. Our workshop discussions embraced the idea that NASA should pursue a long-term goal via a series of small steps, and they identified learning as the critical factor that should drive implementation decisions.
There are several subjects about which we need to learn more. We must learn about the technology we will employ in this endeavor. We must learn more in several areas before we can be sure we have minimized the health risks to astronauts. And all of us, the scientific community, NASA, the Congress, and the nation as whole, must learn how to organize our space program to engage this effort. The workshop report describes concerns that the infrastructure of our space program was formed and sized to support Apollo and it asks “Is the current infrastructure properly configured for a bold initiative?” The report notes that the space program workforce, in the broadest sense, is aging; the attitudes seem risk averse; process seems more important than ingenuity. Can this mind-set be changed? An aging workforce and infrastructure are also a feature of the space science community. Where are the bold new minds that will lead us into the future?
Finally, there is the matter of cost. A sense at the workshop was that it is too premature to estimate how much an exploration initiative would cost—exactly because we have a great deal to learn and because our past experiences have told us that we should be careful in estimating costs too early. This is at the heart of why our participants emphasized a deliberate approach—we should identify critical research and technology development issues and devise, even at this early time, some kind of roadmap for progress in those areas. We must also examine the full breadth of NASA’s science programs to determine what research already underway may contribute to that progress; what research is currently planned that may contribute to that progress; and what new research is necessary, and we must support them all with the resources necessary to achieve success. Only through this balanced approach, with roadmaps for technology development and scientific progress that are related to each other and flexible enough to adapt to change and to learning can we have a guidepost against which we measure our progress, articulate our successes, and identify our next steps.
This approach to success through a series of individual steps implies a kind of “go-as-you-pay” approach to exploration to allow for affordable and flexible exploration that changes in response to learning. In this sense then, go-as-you-pay is complemented by the practice of pay-as-you-learn.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I would like to again thank you for inviting me to testify today. I would be happy to address any questions you and the committee may have about our report or the discussions that took place at our workshop. A renewed opportunity for human exploration in the solar system creates an exciting moment in our nation’s history. I can tell you that there is indeed great excitement in the space community, which I believe is reflected in our report. I think further that the leaders of the scientific community may be ready to stand up and say “we believe this country should invest in this activity, and we are ready to make the case to the world that this is a valid use of this nation’s resources.” I am hopeful that we as scientists are ready to engage this process actively to help guide its implementation and direct it toward success.