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United States Civil Space Policy: Summary of a Workshop 3 Strategic Issues and Options for Solutions Following the pair of scene-setting sessions on the first day of the workshop, the second day provided participants with an opportunity to examine several strategic issues in more detail and to consider options for solutions to problems that were cited in earlier discussions. As was the case during prior sessions, there were a number of recurring themes, which this chapter briefly summarizes. SUSTAINABILITY FACTORS The session on sustainability explored two related themes: (1) long-term approaches for reconciling mismatches between expansive expectations for the civil space program and available resources and (2) factors that influence support from the public and from policy makers for long-term space exploration. Space Studies Board (SSB) member James Pawelczyk (Pennsylvania State University) moderated the session, which began with comments from panelists Paul Carliner (independent consultant and former congressional appropriations committee staff member), George Paulikas (The Aerospace Corporation, retired), Richard Truly (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, retired), and George Whitesides (National Space Society). The subsequent session on balance issues focused on principles for setting priorities for allocating responsibilities and resources both within and outside NASA. Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) member Charles Bolden, Jr. (an independent consultant), served as moderator; the panelists were Charles Kennel (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Tamara Jernigan (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), and Lori Garver (The Avascent Group). One panelist took the approach of examining the characteristics of two non-space-related examples of large, long-enduring federal research and development programs—high-energy physics and magnetically confined fusion research—and asked what lessons they might offer for space exploration. Common factors for the sustainability of those programs appeared to be driving motivation (such as the prestige associated with the pursuit of frontier scientific questions); capacity to produce visible, credible, incremental progress; programmatic balance (i.e., a portfolio of both large and small projects); geographic diversity; and international reach and collaboration. Participants acknowledged that the analogies are not perfect, especially with respect to the budgetary scale of space exploration compared with these examples in physics research. The discussions in both workshop sessions highlighted factors that many participants saw as important to ensuring sustainability—realism about resources, leadership, relevance and value, and balance. These factors are summarized below. Realism About Resources Participants often returned to prior discussions about the perceived mismatch among expectations, resources, and program sustainability. One speaker noted that when responsibilities are expanded, as was the case when NASA embarked on the objectives of the Vision, additional resources are also needed or there can be impacts on other aspects of the agency’s program. The speaker argued that trying to do everything with a flat budget was a “failed strategy.”
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United States Civil Space Policy: Summary of a Workshop Speakers cited both internal and external factors that can affect budget realism. Among the former are the impacts of project delays, the adequacy of contingency funds to cover technical risks, pressures for full employment at all NASA centers, and “management turbulence” that elicits defensive behavior throughout an organization when resources are seen as being both tight and threatened. External factors cited that might impact budget realism, and thereby program sustainability, included the capacity to respond to emerging policy drivers (e.g., rising competition from China and India and the emergence of concerns about climate and energy as major global issues), likely continued federal budget deficits, and potential congressional opposition to U.S. reliance on Russia during an extended launch hiatus after the space shuttle is retired. Leadership The concept of leadership played into discussions of sustainability in at least three ways. Some participants argued that strong leadership at the senior levels of NASA and the government is an essential factor in planning, articulating, and promoting NASA’s program. In this context, some speakers viewed as a matter of considerable urgency the need for senior leaders to face up to what was described as a program that cannot be executed within the allotted budget. Second, there were calls for members of the space community, both inside and outside the government, to lead by establishing credible program cost estimates and carrying out programs within realistic budgets. Third, several participants argued that a space program that puts the United States in an international leadership role would have the greatest national impact and public support. While some speakers expressed frustration over what was perceived to be an unrealistic current plan, some also posited that arguments can be made for increasing NASA’s budget. One speaker recalled that in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, when NASA was trying to cope with the impacts of the Challenger accident and near-simultaneous failures of all major expendable launch vehicles, the agency was successful in securing additional funds that were important across multiple parts of NASA’s program. Securing larger budgets required convincing arguments. This outcome was illustrated by a colloquy between two participants in which one suggested that the current situation is as if “we’re a group of people having dinner and there wasn’t enough food. Then we brought in a 300-lb visitor …. The best solution would be more food,” to which a colleague replied, “And if your visitor were important enough, you might get it.” Participants offered diverse opinions about the relative leadership roles of NASA and the scientific community in achieving and operating within affordable budgets. Some noted that it has been common practice has been for NASA to ask the community to recommend the best science and then leave the determination of how to accomplish that science to NASA. Others cited experiences in which active participation by the outside community had led to important successes in bringing or keeping projects within realistic bounds. Examples of the latter included Earth science community efforts in the 1990s to define an affordable Earth Observing System program; Mars Science Laboratory science team efforts to bring the mission cost back within budget limits; and the recent National Research Council (NRC) assessment of candidates for Beyond Einstein program missions, a study that included engineers, managers, and cost experts working alongside scientists on the committee.1 International leadership as a central motivating factor for the civil space program was also a recurring theme. One speaker noted that a country might strive to exercise leadership in space for two different reasons—for prestige or for “techno-nationalism” (i.e., using technology to support national and geopolitical interests). Some speakers suggested that space-related efforts in many parts of the world have been influenced by what the United States undertakes; if the United States does it, others want to do so as well. Although there were differing opinions voiced about whether China poses a threat to U.S. leadership in space, several speakers argued that if the public saw China as having somehow taken the lead, there 1 National Research Council, NASA’s Beyond Einstein Program: An Architecture for Implementation, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
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United States Civil Space Policy: Summary of a Workshop would be an immediate reaction of alarm in the United States. As noted in Chapter 2, one speaker introduced the idea of the United States as a hegemon in space, that is, a nation that has been capable of exerting a dominant influence over others. Speakers suggested that the United States has an opportunity to choose to be the last unilateralist hegemon before the world goes global or to be a benevolent hegemon, leading the world in a collaborative effort on behalf of the international community. Relevance and Value Discussions about a rationale for the civil space program were characterized by frequent affirmations that space program proponents need to be able to articulate a clear and compelling purpose that communicates the value of investment in space activities to decision makers and the public. One speaker offered that, from a political perspective, the first thing that candidates for major national office ask is, “Why should I care?” There was considerable diversity of opinion about what kinds of answers to that question are most likely to motivate support for a sustainable program. One panelist noted that, from a historical perspective, there have been five reasons for going into space: science, national security, commercial activities, a sense of human destiny and exploration, and national prestige and geopolitics. The first three of those reasons can be pursued without having to send people into space, whereas the last two have been factors in advocating on behalf of human spaceflight. The panelist concluded that, especially in view of the degree of public apathy about funding space programs, geopolitical arguments have been most important in sustaining human space exploration in the United States; no leader has wanted to go down in history as having been the one to cede this effort to others outside the United States. Other speakers built on the historical perspective and argued that the geopolitical contributions of the space program can and should remain as central elements of the rationale for the future program. Participants described this kind of goal in two ways. Either the space program could be motivated by competition in which the United States commits to space exploration in order to respond to a perceived threat that others (e.g., China) might overtake the United States in space, or the United States could pursue a more cooperative approach in which the nation exerts geopolitical leadership to bring the international space community together to serve important global goals. The latter approach, which some speakers believed to have strong public staying power, would be the benevolent hegemon approach mentioned above. Another panelist focused on domestic relevance, that is, on the need for the NASA program to demonstrate significant practical benefits and value to the public. When one asks the public about value that comes from investments in the National Institutes of Health, or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the Federal Aviation Administration, there are usually prompt answers. But there are no such ready answers with respect to NASA. The speaker argued that proponents of the Vision for Space Exploration2 have failed to rise to the challenge of articulating the public value of space exploration because attention has been focused on the “how” (e.g., new launch systems hardware) instead of the “why.” The speaker suggested that the case for space needs to be made on the basis of a combination of how space is emblematic of technological and scientific leadership and of how the investments in space projects have technological and economic benefits on Earth. Some participants agreed that it is important to be able to emphasize the relevance of space activities to such down-to-Earth concerns as climate change solutions, energy, breakthroughs in transportation, and diplomacy. Others cautioned that there are now many alternative avenues for technology investment (e.g., biotechnology and information systems) and that as a consequence, arguments for the power of space program spin-offs are no longer as compelling as they might have been in the past. Another school of thought regarding what most interests the public about the value of space exploration was what some participants called the “wow factor.” That is, people throughout the world are 2 National Aeronautics and Space Administration, The Vision for Space Exploration, NP-2004-01-334-HQ, NASA, Washington, D.C., 2004.
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United States Civil Space Policy: Summary of a Workshop still genuinely interested in and excited about what is accomplished in the space program. The Hubble Space Telescope and the Mars Exploration Rovers were cited as examples. Some noted that the public does connect in a different way when people—that is, astronauts—are physically involved in the activities. Others added that if the fledgling commercial space tourism industry gains traction there will be enormous new interest in space. During these discussions some participants raised two cautionary notes. First, there were participants who argued that returning to the Moon, which constitutes the first major near-term objective of the Vision, is simply not exciting to people or viewed as expansive or creative. Second, several participants indicated that today’s young generation has different expectations that include a strong desire for a participative experience. According to these speakers, the degree of participation and virtual presence that today’s youth have come to expect is lacking in the Vision. Balance Several participants made comments about how the perceptions of balance can impact sustainability, and they noted that the concept of balance has multiple dimensions that not everyone will see in the same way. One speaker suggested that at the highest level, balance should be judged by how well program elements are deployed to respond to national needs, such as addressing national security, science, global health, education, and workforce development, all of which might be characterized as high-risk, high-reward areas. Another speaker noted that policy makers assess balance in terms of how program priorities are prescribed by the law (National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, Public Law 85-5683) and how they support priorities set by national policy, noting that electing policy makers and having them make decisions about top-level priorities has worked in the space program for 50 years. The speaker argued that the current administration’s space policy4 has seven top-level goals, which are about equally divided between items for civil space programs and for national security and defense space programs. The former can all be linked to NASA’s strategic plan. One speaker noted that there is an unfortunate tone in discussions of balance because they appear to pit human space exploration against the scientific and aeronautics sides of NASA. This kind of debate, the speaker indicated, stems from the fact that all sides think that resources for their programs are scarce. The balance deliberation should really be about how to achieve synergies among different parts of NASA, among NASA and other agencies and countries, and between NASA and the private sector. That speaker also suggested that good metrics for proper balance would include clear indications of measurable progress and success as well as attention to the long-term health of the underlying disciplines. The speaker noted a need to balance long- and short-term goals to prepare the country for unforeseen future developments as well as demonstrating progress toward nearer-term goals. Another speaker suggested that assessing balance requires recognizing that different elements of NASA’s program have different constituencies with different objectives or values. For example, the scientific community measures success in terms of the degree of scientific progress in pursuing its decadal survey priorities;5 the Earth science community measures progress against how well it can address national environmental needs; and the aeronautics community measures progress in terms of responding to the needs of commercial and military air transport interests. Human spaceflight is in a different situation in that its constituency should be the public, although its focus seems to be on NASA rather than the public as a constituency now. 3 National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, Public Law 85-568, 72 Stat., 426, July 29, 1958, Record Group 255, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C; available in NASA Historical Reference Collection, History Office, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. 4 Office of Science and Technology Policy, U.S. National Space Policy, National Security Presidential Directive 49, unclassified version released on October 6, 2006, available at http://www.ostp.gov/galleries/defaultfile/Unclassified%20National%20Space%20Policy%20--%20FINAL.pdf. 5 For more information about decadal surveys, see National Research Council, Decadal Science Strategy Surveys: Report of a Workshop, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
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United States Civil Space Policy: Summary of a Workshop Another speaker summed up the discussions of balance by noting that when one goal dwarfs all others and keeps them from being achieved, there is a balance problem. Adjusting such an imbalance takes time. The speaker noted that one can never do enough for balance, but hard choices need to be made and decision makers just have to make the best of it. EARTH OBSERVATIONS SSB member Jack Fellows (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research) moderated the session on civil government missions in Earth observations, and panelists Johannes Loschnigg (NRC staff consultant and former member of the staff of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics), Berrien Moore III (University of New Hampshire), and Soroosh Sorooshian (University of California, Irvine) opened the discussions. Like the sessions that preceded it, the overall tone of this session was pessimistic. Speakers summarized evidence for significant climate-related changes that are being measured now—for example, the accelerating rate of carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, estimates that nearly half of all current carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are not removed by natural sinks but stay in the atmosphere, and the acceleration of atmospheric CO2 concentration since the late 1960s—and argued that very serious global climate change problems are likely to continue for the next 50 years or so. The issues were described as being research problems rather than operational problems, but speakers noted that federal funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, the operational agency) has been increasing while NASA (the research agency) has experienced decreasing funding. One speaker described this situation as “a perfect storm.” A speaker in an earlier session had argued that a critical need is for the United States to rebuild its leadership capacity in Earth science. Recognizing that NASA Earth observations are embedded in both national and international programs, the speaker posed several strategic questions, as follows: How should NASA participate in the national Earth science program? How can NASA regain interagency and international high ground? How can NASA regain the technical high ground? Responding, in part, to these questions and the questions posed for the session panelists (see Appendix B), one speaker suggested that the basic division of labor should continue to be that NASA does the scientific and technological research and then hands the results off to NOAA for applying them to operational responsibilities. Other speakers agreed that the two agencies should retain their currently assigned roles. However, the two agencies have distinctly different cultures that influence their priorities. The Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission was cited as an example of a transition failure. Because its research phase had ended, NASA wished to terminate the mission or hand the mission over to NOAA, but NOAA did not wish to assume the operational costs in spite of the mission’s operational value.6 Similarly, the restructuring of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System broke down in the sense that the Department of Defense drove the restructuring, while NOAA retreated to those elements that supported its core weather-monitoring and weather-forecasting mission and NASA ended up not being much of a player in decisions in spite of its research needs. One participant noted that when considering interagency activities, it is important to recognize that NASA and NOAA have distinctly different cultures. Another participant noted that as a general rule it is not a practical idea to fly research instruments on operational missions. 6 National Research Council, Assessment of the Benefits of Extending the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission: A Perspective from the Research and Operations Communities, Interim Report, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2006.
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United States Civil Space Policy: Summary of a Workshop One speaker noted that the 2006 national space policy included four items for action by NASA and NOAA,7 but that implementation of those actions had not succeeded. The speaker observed that interagency activities work well in an environment of increasing budgets, but not when resources are falling. Clear authority and direction are necessary in the latter case. CAPABILITIES AND INFRASTRUCTURE The final session on strategic issues, led by ASEB chair Raymond Colladay (Lockheed Martin Astronautics, retired), addressed questions regarding future needs and gaps in capability and infrastructure. The panelists were John Klineberg (Space Systems/Loral, retired), Thomas Zurbuchen (University of Michigan), and Ian Pryke (George Mason University). In contrast to the concern that marked much of the earlier discussion during the workshop, some participants in this session suggested that there is reason for optimism. That is, if there are well-articulated national priorities and the resources to back them up, then market forces will ensure that industry will be able to provide the necessary capabilities and infrastructure. A concern receiving considerable attention related to the challenge of interesting and recruiting young people who will constitute the high-technology workforce that will carry out the space exploration program. One speaker described experience with very bright university students who initially selected but then opted out of aerospace careers because there were too few opportunities for substantive hands-on work compared with more exciting and challenging alternatives in other career fields. The speaker cited three factors that contribute to this problem: the lack of a sense that space programs offer an opportunity to make an important impact, the lack of effective partnerships between universities and NASA that focus on creating talent, and the fact that the International Traffic in Arms Regulations keeps some of the best non-U.S. students out of the pipeline. Another speaker addressed the recruitment issue by citing the results of market surveys that examined public interest in the space program.8 The number of 18- to 24-year-olds who indicated that they were excited by or interested in returning humans to the Moon (35 percent) was far smaller than the number of 45- to 64-year-olds (80 percent). Furthermore, in the 18- to 24-year-old age group there was a 3-to-1 margin of opposition to sending humans to Mars, but slightly more than half of the people sampled in that age group indicated support for more robotic missions to Mars. The latter group showed special interest in opportunities for telepresence, that is, missions that could support a remotely interactive or virtual presence on Mars. The speaker concluded that it is essential that this age group be cultivated so that it will not only be supportive of space exploration but will also create the pool of future program leaders. In subsequent discussions some participants repeated support for the ideas that young people can become interested in space exploration in general when they see opportunities to become engaged through contemporary media that create a virtual presence, and that young people can become interested in space exploration careers when they see opportunities for real hands-on work in the program. Others noted that there is evidence of contemporary success along these lines, and they cited two institutions where turnover rates are very low—namely, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and at Lockheed Martin Corporation. 7 Office of Science and Technology Policy, U.S. National Space Policy, National Security Presidential Directive 49, unclassified version released on October 6, 2006, available at http://www.ostp.gov/galleries/defaultfile/Unclassified%20National%20Space%20Policy%20--%20FINAL.pdf. 8 See P. Finarelli and I. Pryke, Building and Maintaining the Constituency for Long-term Space Exploration, Center for Aerospace Policy, George Washington University, Washington, D.C., available at http://www.gmupolicy.net/aerospace/IAC-PaperFINAL.pdf.