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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs Summary From its inception in 1958, much of the U.S. space program was driven by opportunities to serve national interests in a geopolitical environment heavily colored by Cold War threats and fears. Originally, the true potential of space activities was largely speculative. In the ensuing decades, however, early expectations for discovery and technological accomplishment have been richly exceeded. Without a doubt, the first 50 years of the space age have been transformative. Astronauts have stood on Earth’s moon while millions watched. Commercial communications and remote sensing satellites have become part of the basic infrastructure of the world. Satellites support worldwide communications, providing a critical backbone for commerce—carrying billions of global financial transactions daily, for example. Direct broadcasting beams television signals into homes globally, delivering images that bring unprecedented awareness of events occurring throughout the world. Military global positioning satellites provide ubiquitous signals that support a stunning variety of services, from assisting in the navigation of civilian airplanes, shipping, and automobiles to transmitting timing signals that enable cell phone and power grid switching. Remote sensing satellites obtain high-resolution images of Earth’s surface, available now on the Internet for people worldwide to view and use, and provide critical information to monitor changes in our climate and their effects. Our understanding of every aspect of the cosmos has been profoundly altered, and in the view of many, we stand once again at the brink of a new era. Space observations have mapped the remnant radiation from the Big Bang that began our universe. We have discovered that the expansion of the universe continues to accelerate, driven by a force that we do not yet understand, and that there are large amounts of matter in the universe that we cannot yet observe. We have seen
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs galaxies forming at the beginning of the universe and stars forming in our own galaxy. We have explored the wonders that abound in our solar system and have found locations where life might have occurred or might even now be present. We have discovered planets around other stars, so many that it is ever more likely that there are other Earths comparable to our own. What will the next 50 years bring? Today we live in a globalized world of societies and nations characterized by intertwined economies, trade commitments, and international security agreements. Mutual dependencies are much more pervasive and important than ever before. Many of the pressing problems that now require our best efforts to understand and resolve—from terrorism to climate change to demand for energy—are also global in nature and must be addressed through mutual worldwide action. In the judgment of the Committee on the Rationale and Goals of the U.S. Civil Space Program, the ability to operate from, through, and in space will be a key component of potential solutions to 21st-century challenges. As it has before, with the necessary alignment to achieve clearly articulated national priorities, the U.S. civil space1 program can serve the nation effectively in this new and demanding environment. In its initial discussions, the committee concluded that debates about the direction of the civil space program have too often focused on addressing near-term problems and issues without first putting those issues in the context of how a disciplined space program can serve larger national imperatives. In the committee’s view, characterizing the top-level goals of the civil space program and the connection between those goals and broad national priorities is necessary as a foundation on which the nation (both now and in the future) can devise sustainable solutions to nearer-term issues. Therefore, the committee focused on the long-term, strategic value of the U.S. civil space program, and its report does not address nearer-term issues that affect the conduct of U.S. space activities other than to provide a context in which more tactical decisions might be made. The national priorities that informed the committee’s thinking include ensuring national security, providing clean and affordable energy, protecting the environment now and for future generations, educating an engaged citizenry and a capable workforce for the 21st century, sustaining global economic competitiveness, and working internationally to build a safer, more sustainable world. A common element across all these urgent priorities is the significant part that research and development can play in solving problems and advancing the national enterprise in each area. Instruments in space have documented an accelerating decline in arctic sea ice; mapped the circulation of the world’s oceans; enabled the creation of quantitative three-dimensional data sets to improve the quality of hurricane forecasting; and created new tools to address a host of agricultural, coastal, and urban resource management problems, to cite only a few examples. 1 The committee considered “civil space” to include all government, commercial, academic, and private space activities not directly intended for military or intelligence use.
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs Such capabilities demonstrate what can be achieved when technologically challenging space problems stimulate innovation that leads to long-term advances with applications beyond the space sector. Civil space activities are central to the R&D enterprise of the nation, often in a transformational way, and thus present powerful opportunities to help address major national objectives. Observations from space offering unique capabilities for global environmental and land-use monitoring are essential to informed decision making about energy production and climate change policies, and they help provide the understanding required for wise management. The high visibility of space activities attracts students’ attention to science, technology, and mathematics, and space activities are an exciting focus for teaching those subjects. Commercial space-related ventures now figure significantly in global economic competitiveness, and, while government investments to stimulate the nation’s fragile economy will have short-term impacts, R&D investments can be counted on to make longer-term sustainable contributions to the nation’s economic strength. As has countless times proved the case, research in and from space will continue to lead to important future, and not always currently predictable, benefits that hold the promise of progress toward realizing U.S. as well as shared international goals. The committee’s overall conclusion is that a preeminent U.S. civil space program with strengths and capabilities aligned for tackling widely acknowledged national challenges—environmental, economic, and strategic—is a national imperative today, and will continue to grow in importance in the future. GOALS FOR THE CIVIL SPACE PROGRAM Structured and supported to match multiple responsibilities in serving key national objectives, the U.S. civil space program should be preeminent in the sense that it can influence, by example, nations’ use of space. To be a strategic leader in a globalized world requires that the United States have a civil space program whose breadth, competence, and level of accomplishment ensure that U.S. leadership is demonstrated, accepted, and welcomed. The committee identified six strategic goals that it regards as basic for guiding program choices and resources planning for U.S. civil space activities. The goals all serve the national interest, and steady progress in achieving each of them is necessary. To reestablish leadership for the protection of Earth and its inhabitants through the use of space research and technology. The key global perspective enabled by space observations is critical to monitoring climate change and testing climate models, managing Earth resources, and mitigating risks associated with natural phenomena such as severe weather and asteroids. To sustain U.S. leadership in science by seeking knowledge of the universe and searching for life beyond Earth. Space offers a multitude of critical opportuni-
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs ties, unavailable in Earth-based laboratories, to extend our knowledge of the local and distant universe and to search for life beyond Earth. To expand the frontiers of human activities in space. Human spaceflight continues to challenge technology, utilize unique human capabilities, bring global prestige, and excite the public’s imagination. Space provides almost limitless opportunities for extending the human experience to new frontiers. To provide technological, economic, and societal benefits that contribute solutions to the nation’s most pressing problems. Space activities provide economic opportunities, stimulate innovation, and support services that improve the quality of life. U.S. economic competitiveness is directly affected by our ability to perform in this sector and the many sectors enabled and supported by space activities. To inspire current and future generations. U.S. civil space activities, built on a legacy of spectacular achievements, should continue to inspire the public and also serve to attract future generations of scientists and engineers. To enhance U.S. global strategic leadership through leadership in civil space activities. Because of the growing strategic importance of space, all nations that aspire to global political and economic leadership in the 21st century are increasing their space-faring capabilities. Continued U.S. global leadership is tied to continued U.S. leadership in space. FOUNDATIONAL ELEMENTS To contribute to realizing critical national objectives, including those just listed, the U.S. space program, both the civil and the national security components, must have a strong foundation and adequate resources. While the breadth of the civil space program has grown, there is also a sense that the program has been unfocused, with corresponding impacts on the organizations and institutions that support it. The United States can no longer pursue space activities on the assumption of its unchallengeable dominance—as evidenced by the view of other nations that the United States is not the only, or in some cases even the best, option for space partnerships. U.S. leadership in space activities and their capacity to serve urgent national needs must be based on preeminent technical capabilities; ingenuity, entrepreneurialism, and a willingness to take risks; and recognition of mutual interdependencies. The time has come to reassess, and, in some cases, reinvent the institutions, workforce, infrastructure, and technology base for U.S. space activities. The committee identified four foundational elements critical to a purposeful, effective, strategic U.S. space program, without which U.S. space efforts will lack robustness, realism, sustainability, and affordability. Coordinated national strategies—implementing national space policy coherently across all civilian agencies in support of national needs and priori-
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs ties and aligning attention to shared interests of civil and national security space activities; A competent technical workforce—sufficient in size, talent, and experience to address difficult and pressing challenges; An effectively sized and structured infrastructure—realizing synergy from the public and private sectors and from international partnerships; and A priority investment in technology and innovation—strengthening and sustaining the U.S. capacity to meet national needs through transformational advances. Efforts to establish each of these elements to ensure a strong foundation for the nation’s civil space program must overcome several impediments. The issues include a loss of focus on national imperatives, overly constrained resources, inadequate coordination across the federal government, missed opportunities to transition roles from government-led to private-sector-provided services, obstacles to international cooperation, weakened institutional partnerships, and lack of emphasis on advanced technology development programs. Awareness of such issues—and not an effort to resolve specific instances—guided the committee in its development of recommendations to NASA, NOAA, and the federal government at the highest levels. RECOMMENDATIONS The committee found that, in spite of their promise and utility, components of the civil space program are not always aligned to fully capitalize on opportunities to serve the larger national interest. Decisions about civil space priorities, strategies, and programs, and the resources to achieve them, are not always made with a conscious view toward their linkages to broader national interests. Accordingly, the committee recommends as follows: Addressing national imperatives. Emphasis should be placed on aligning space program capabilities with current high-priority national imperatives, including those where space is not traditionally considered. The U.S. civil space program has long demonstrated a capacity to effectively serve U.S. national interests. Recommendation 1 provides a broad policy basis on which the committee’s subsequent specific recommendations rest. The recommendations that follow address a set of actions, all of which are necessary to strengthen the U.S. civil space program and reinforce or enhance the contributions of civil space activities to broader national objectives. Climate and environmental monitoring. NASA and NOAA should lead the formation of an international satellite-observing architecture capable of monitor-
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs ing global climate change and its consequences and support the research needed to interpret and understand the data in time for meaningful policy decisions by Reversing the deterioration of the U.S. Earth observation infrastructure; Developing and implementing a plan for achieving and sustaining global Earth observations; Working with the international community to develop an integrated database for sensor information from all Earth-monitoring satellites; Aggressively pursuing technology development for future high-priority Earth observation missions; and Actively planning for transitions to continue demonstrably useful research observations on a sustained, or operational, basis. Scientific inquiry. NASA, in cooperation with other agencies and international partners, should continue to lead a program of scientific exploration and discovery that Seizes opportunities to advance understanding of Earth, the objects of the solar system, including the Sun, and the vast universe beyond; Includes searches for evidence of life beyond Earth; Contributes to understanding how the universe works, who we are, where we came from, and what is the destiny of our star—the Sun—our solar system, and the universe, and of the physical laws that govern them; and Is guided by peer review, advisory committees, and the priorities articulated by the science communities in their strategic planning reports, such as the NRC’s decadal surveys.2 Advanced space technology. NASA should revitalize its advanced technology development program by establishing a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-like organization within NASA as a priority mission area to support preeminent civil, national security (if dual-use), and commercial space programs. The resulting program should Be organizationally independent of major development programs; Serve all civil space customers, including the commercial sector; Conduct an extensive assessment of the current state and potential of civil space technology; and Conduct cutting-edge fundamental research in support of the nation’s space technology base. 2 The NRC decadal surveys have been widely used by the scientific community and by program decision makers because they (a) present explicit, consensus priorities for the most important, potentially revolutionary science that should be undertaken within the span of a decade; (b) develop priorities for future investments in research facilities, space missions, and/or supporting programs; (c) rank competing opportunities and ideas and clearly indicate which ones are of higher or lower priority in terms of the timing, risk, and cost of their implementation; and (d) make the difficult adverse decisions about other meritorious ideas that cannot be accommodated within realistically available resources.
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs International cooperation. The government, under White House leadership, should pursue international cooperation in space proactively as a means to advance U.S. strategic leadership and meet national and mutual international goals by Expanding international partnerships in studies of global change; Leading an effort in which the United States and other major space-faring nations cooperate to develop rules for a robust space operating regime that ensures that space becomes a more productive global commons for science, commerce, and other activities; Rationalizing export controls so as to ensure ongoing prevention of inappropriate transfer of sensitive technologies to adversaries while eliminating barriers to international cooperation and commerce that do not contribute effectively to national security; Expanding international partnerships in the use of the International Space Station (ISS); Continuing international cooperation in scientific research and human space exploration; Engaging the nations of the developing world in educating and training their citizens to take advantage of space technology for sustainable development; and Supporting the interchange of international scholars and students. Human spaceflight. NASA should be on the leading edge of actively pursuing human spaceflight, to extend the human experience into new frontiers, challenge technology, bring global prestige, and excite the public’s imagination. These goals should be accomplished by Setting challenging objectives that advance the frontier, scientific and technological understanding, and the state of the art; Establishing clear goals for each step in a sequence of human space-flight missions beyond low Earth orbit that will develop techniques and hardware that can be used in a next step further outward; Focusing use of the ISS on advancing capabilities for human space exploration; Using human spaceflight to enhance the U.S. soft power leadership by inviting emerging economic powers to join with us in human spaceflight adventures. National space policy too often has been implemented in a stovepipe fashion that makes it difficult to recognize connections between space activities and pressing national challenges. Often, senior policy makers with broad portfolios have not been able to take the time to consider the space program in the broader national context. Rather, policies have been translated into programs by setting budget levels and then expecting agencies to manage to those budgets. The committee
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs believes that the process of aligning roles and responsibilities for space activities, making resource commitments, and coordinating across departments and agencies needs to be carried out at a sufficiently high level so that decisions are made from the perspective of addressing the larger national issues whose resolution space activities can help achieve. How this process is accomplished might change from administration to administration, but the need for an approach that will elevate attention to the proper level remains essential. Organizing to meet national needs. The President of the United States should task senior executive-branch officials to align agency and department strategies; identify gaps or shortfalls in policy coverage, policy implementation, and resource allocation; and identify new opportunities for space-based endeavors that will help to address the goals of both the U.S. civil and national security space programs. The effort should include the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and should consider the following elements: Coordinating budgetary guidance across federal departments and agencies involved in space activities; Coordinating responsibility and accountability for resource allocations for common services and/or infrastructure; Coordinating responsibility and accountability for stimulating, nurturing, and sustaining a robust space industrial base, including the commercial space industry; Coordinating responsibility and accountability for initiatives to recruit and develop a competent aerospace workforce of sufficient size and talent, anticipating future needs; Identifying, developing, and coordinating initiatives to address long-range technological needs for future programs; Identifying, developing, and coordinating initiatives to establish and strengthen international space relationships; Harmonizing the roles and responsibilities of federal agencies to eliminate gaps and unnecessary duplication in the nation’s space portfolio; and Regularly reviewing coordinated national space strategies and their success in implementing overall national space policy.