Summary

What are the principal purposes, goals, and priorities of the U.S. civil space program?1 This question was the focus of the workshop on civil space policy held November 29-30, 2007, by the Space Studies Board (SSB) and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) of the National Research Council (NRC). In addressing this question, invited speakers and panelists and the general discussion from this public workshop explored a series of topics, including the following:

  • Key changes and developments in the U.S. civil space program since the new national Vision for Space Exploration2 (the Vision) was articulated by the executive branch in 2004;

  • The fit of space exploration within a broader national and international context;

  • Affordability, public interest, and political will to sustain the civil space program;

  • Definitions, metrics, and decision criteria for the mix and balance of activities within the program portfolio;

  • Roles of government in Earth observations from space; and

  • Gaps in capabilities and infrastructure to support the program.

The workshop organizers acknowledged the long-standing problem of reconciling expectations of civil space program accomplishments during the coming decades with the limited public resources available to support these activities. The goal of the workshop was neither to develop definitive solutions nor to reach consensus. Rather, the purpose was to air a range of views and perspectives that would serve to inform broader discussion of such questions by policy makers and the public. This document summarizes the opinions expressed by individual workshop participants and does not necessarily reflect the consensus views of these participants, the SSB, or the workshop planning committee.

By way of background, the SSB and the ASEB had convened a similar workshop in 2003 in the wake of the space shuttle Columbia tragedy and the findings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. Since the issuance of the report on the 2003 workshop, Issues and Opportunities Regarding the U.S. Space Program: A Summary Report of a Workshop on National Space Policy,3 additional developments have taken place to redirect many elements of the civil space program. The Vision for Space Exploration set forth by the executive branch in 2004, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act of 2005,4 and the national space policy presidential directive issued in 2006 have all served to redirect the program. The Vision sets forth a long-term robotic and human exploration program; the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 endorses the Vision and directs the

1

Participants at the 2003 workshop considered civil space to include all of NASA’s human and robotic space programs; NOAA’s meteorological and environmental satellite programs; the activities of commercial entities in support of the space programs of NASA, NOAA, and other civilian agencies; and commercial space activities. Military and national security reconnaissance space programs were not included under the rubric of civil space. Participants in the 2007 workshop took the same approach and also considered emerging entrepreneurial efforts such as space tourism to be part of civil commercial space.

2

National Aeronautics and Space Administration, The Vision for Space Exploration, NP-2004-01-334-HQ, NASA, Washington, D.C., 2004.

3

National Research Council, Issues and Opportunities Regarding the U.S. Space Program: A Summary Report of a Workshop on National Space Policy, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2004.

4

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2005, Public Law 109-155, 109th Congress, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 2005.



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Summary What are the principal purposes, goals, and priorities of the U.S. civil space program?1 This question was the focus of the workshop on civil space policy held November 29-30, 2007, by the Space Studies Board (SSB) and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) of the National Research Council (NRC). In addressing this question, invited speakers and panelists and the general discussion from this public workshop explored a series of topics, including the following: Key changes and developments in the U.S. civil space program since the new national Vision for Space Exploration2 (the Vision) was articulated by the executive branch in 2004; The fit of space exploration within a broader national and international context; Affordability, public interest, and political will to sustain the civil space program; Definitions, metrics, and decision criteria for the mix and balance of activities within the program portfolio; Roles of government in Earth observations from space; and Gaps in capabilities and infrastructure to support the program. The workshop organizers acknowledged the long-standing problem of reconciling expectations of civil space program accomplishments during the coming decades with the limited public resources available to support these activities. The goal of the workshop was neither to develop definitive solutions nor to reach consensus. Rather, the purpose was to air a range of views and perspectives that would serve to inform broader discussion of such questions by policy makers and the public. This document summarizes the opinions expressed by individual workshop participants and does not necessarily reflect the consensus views of these participants, the SSB, or the workshop planning committee. By way of background, the SSB and the ASEB had convened a similar workshop in 2003 in the wake of the space shuttle Columbia tragedy and the findings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. Since the issuance of the report on the 2003 workshop, Issues and Opportunities Regarding the U.S. Space Program: A Summary Report of a Workshop on National Space Policy,3 additional developments have taken place to redirect many elements of the civil space program. The Vision for Space Exploration set forth by the executive branch in 2004, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act of 2005,4 and the national space policy presidential directive issued in 2006 have all served to redirect the program. The Vision sets forth a long-term robotic and human exploration program; the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 endorses the Vision and directs the 1 Participants at the 2003 workshop considered civil space to include all of NASA’s human and robotic space programs; NOAA’s meteorological and environmental satellite programs; the activities of commercial entities in support of the space programs of NASA, NOAA, and other civilian agencies; and commercial space activities. Military and national security reconnaissance space programs were not included under the rubric of civil space. Participants in the 2007 workshop took the same approach and also considered emerging entrepreneurial efforts such as space tourism to be part of civil commercial space. 2 National Aeronautics and Space Administration, The Vision for Space Exploration, NP-2004-01-334-HQ, NASA, Washington, D.C., 2004. 3 National Research Council, Issues and Opportunities Regarding the U.S. Space Program: A Summary Report of a Workshop on National Space Policy, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2004. 4 The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2005, Public Law 109-155, 109th Congress, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 2005. 1

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program in several areas with respect to policy, management, and accountability and oversight; and the 2006 presidential directive establishes goals related to U.S. space leadership and the governance of space operations in and through space. ROBUSTNESS OF THE CIVIL SPACE PROGRAM The workshop summarized here thus builds on discussion from the 2003 workshop in light of these developments. A natural starting point was an assessment of the new directions for the U.S. civil space program: How robust or resilient are these new directions to changes in resources available to support the program? How relevant is the program in what many workshop participants see as a rapidly changing international context? Is there public appeal in terms of willingness to embrace the program? Many participants expressed the view that the Vision had not progressed as originally outlined nor as many had expected, due in large part to the failure of the administration and the Congress to seek the required resources. A prominent concern among participants was that although the Vision was to be “pay as you go,” shortfalls in the NASA budget had led the agency to reallocate resources toward pursuit of the Vision and away from other activities such as space and Earth science. Speakers argued that continued operational costs of the International Space Station, delayed phaseout of the space shuttle, costs of near- term development of the next-generation space transportation system, and unbudgeted operational costs will all make the Vision increasingly unaffordable. Other participants acknowledged that some of the problems with robustness and program balance are of the space community’s own making, in that in many activities, project cost estimates had been unrealistic and subject to significant cost growth. Participants from within and outside the scientific community voiced agreement that the community will need to demonstrate leadership and share responsibility with NASA in controlling science program costs. Speakers expressed concern that NASA’s program suffers from a lack of resources, budget realism, and budget stability, thereby making the Vision unaffordable and unsustainable. The recent report that focused on the space and Earth science issues at this workshop summarized the mood at the workshop as follows:5 Overall, as noted by the participants themselves, the tone of the workshop was surprisingly sober, with frequent expressions of discouragement, disappointment, and apprehension about the future of the U.S. civil space program. During the one and one-half days of discussion, an oft-repeated statement by workshop participants was that the goals of the U.S. civil space program are completely mismatched with the resources provided to accomplish them. INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT In contrast with the 2003 workshop at which international developments were mentioned but did not play a pivotal role in discussion, international collaboration and competition were prominent topics at the 2007 workshop. Speakers summarized their understanding of the capabilities and ambitions of new national space programs in China and India, cited the forming of multinational alliances that exclude the United States or Europe, and pointed out some consequences of the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) as examples of new challenges in balancing cooperation and competition in the U.S. civil space program. For example, speakers questioned whether a goal of cooperation conflicts with the objective in the Vision to support international participation “to further U.S. scientific, security, and 5 National Research Council, Workshop Series on Issues in Space Science and Technology: Summary of Space and Earth Science Issues from the Workshop on U.S. Civil Space Policy, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2008, p. 2. 2

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economic interests.”6 Some participants suggested that international cooperation could provide a means to share costs, thereby augmenting resources available for the space program, but others noted that collaboration does not always result in reduced costs, particularly if partner roles and responsibilities are unclear. Participants also discussed at length the emergence of China as a major player in space and whether China presents a threat, in which case cooperation may be difficult or even out of the question, or an opportunity for engagement and cooperation, in which case space could gain a new strategic purpose as a vehicle for such cooperation. In any case, discussion highlighted that a decision about how to engage China will not be based solely on space policy, but will depend on much larger geopolitical considerations. PUBLIC INTEREST AND SUPPORT In assessing contemporary public interest in and support for space activities, some participants commented that programs such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Mars rovers are popular and have a “wow factor”; other speakers suggested that as long as the NASA budget is not too large, a “wow factor” in space accomplishments becomes less important. Others noted some survey-based evidence7 that the greatest degree of enthusiasm for human space exploration rests with the Apollo generation (the 45- to 64-year-old age group), with much less support from the generation of youngest voters the 18- to 24- year-old age group. SUSTAINABILITY, RESOURCES, LEADERSHIP, RELEVANCE, AND BALANCE Subsequent discussion turned to identifying problems in more detail, specifically to addressing a lack of resources, leadership challenges, the relevance and value of the space program, and balance among activities within the program. Speakers cited both internal and external factors that can affect resource requirements. Internal factors include project delays, inadequate contingency funds, pressures for “full employment” at NASA centers, and defensive behavior by program managers and others when resources are scarce. External influences include competition from China and India, the emergence of climate and energy as major global issues, and likely continued federal budget deficits. Another concern was potential congressional opposition to U.S. reliance on Russia during an extended launch hiatus after the retirement of the space shuttle. The question of leadership figured prominently in workshop discussions. Some participants argued that strong leadership at senior levels of NASA and the government is essential for the success of the space program. In this context, some speakers viewed with considerable urgency the desirability of senior leaders facing up to what was repeatedly described as a program that cannot be executed within the allotted budget. Speakers also reiterated the responsibility of the space community to establish sound cost estimates and to execute programs within realistic budgets. Why should I care? suggested by a participant as an appropriate question to be posed by candidates for major national office served to focus in-depth discussion about a rationale for the civil space program. There were considerable differences in opinion, ranging from historically offered reasons (science, national security, commercial activities, a sense of human destiny and exploration, and national prestige and geopolitics) to a focus on the geopolitical contributions of the space program as perhaps one of the most compelling current-day rationales. But there was less than full agreement as to whether 6 National Aeronautics and Space Administration, The Vision for Space Exploration, NP-2004-01-334-HQ, NASA, Washington, D.C., 2004, p. iii. 7 M.L. Dittmar, Engaging the 18-25 Generation: Educational Outreach, Interactive Technologies, and Space, Dittmar Associates, Inc., available at http://www.dittmar-associates.com/Publications/Engaging%20the%2018- 25%20Generation%20Update~web.pdf. 3

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geopolitics meant cooperation or competition as a motivation for space activities. Discussion also addressed but did not reach agreement on whether, and if so to what extent, the civil space program needs to demonstrate practical benefits and value, a “wow” factor, or some mix of both. Balancing the pursuit of science, human space exploration, aeronautics, and other dimensions of space activities was also a concern among participants. Some speakers cautioned against characterizing the problem as “humans versus robots”; others urged that the focus should be on identifying and exploiting synergies among different parts of NASA, among NASA and other agencies and countries, and between NASA and the private sector. Participants also suggested that assessing balance requires recognition that different constituencies have different objectives for example, the scientific community measures much of its success in terms of progress toward goals such as those articulated in decadal surveys, whereas the aeronautics community measures progress in terms of responding to commercial and military air transport requirements. EARTH OBSERVING PROGRAMS Workshop discussion also addressed the role of Earth observations. Speakers emphasized that Earth observations necessarily assume even greater importance given evidence of possibly significant changes in climate. But they remained troubled by problems stemming from reorganization of responsibility for and funding of the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) and the reduced capability of NPOESS in facilitating necessary climate-related measurements. Discussion also addressed the persistent difficulty between NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the “handoff” from use for research purposes to operational use of Earth science infrastructure and information. Speakers argued that differences in these agencies ranging from culture to objectives become even sharper when their budgets are declining. CAPABILITIES AND INFRASTRUCTURE Additional workshop discussion included optimistic comments about future capabilities and infrastructure to support the civil space program if national priorities can be well articulated and sufficient resources made available. For example, both traditional and new companies in aerospace can bring creativity and talent to problem solving when requirements are made clear. Speakers described experiences with bright university students interested in aerospace careers provided students sense that they can have an impact. Speakers further urged that NASA and universities build more effective partnerships to encourage talent and that ITAR restrictions limiting access to good students be remedied. Some participants mentioned institutions where turnover rates among aerospace professionals are very low, even at the present time. Discussion also addressed the attraction of many young people to space activities using contemporary media that create a virtual presence. CONCLUDING THEMES The workshop concluded with the consolidation of discussion topics, which fell into three broad categories: communicating about space exploration; international competition, cooperation, and leadership; and ensuring robustness through new approaches and attitudes. One idea for avoiding the impending programmatic “train wreck” to which many participants referred during the workshop was to “slow down the train” by deferring the first human mission to the Moon; extending the use of the 4

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International Space Station in support of research and development for later human exploration; establishing a telepresence on the Moon; creating an environment of institutional stability in NASA’s program elements; building globally inclusive working groups on direct missions to Mars, global change, and space science; and defining real, meaningful jobs for humans in space. 5