Success in advancing those five goals will result in a world-class U.S. civil space program and will serve as a basis for achieving the sixth goal, which is of particular importance:

  • 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 developing and increasing their space-faring capabilities; continued U.S. global leadership also depends on continued U.S. leadership in space.


Earth has a dynamic and fragile ecosphere (Figure 2.1). And it is home to life as we know it now and in the foreseeable future. However, humankind, by virtue of its numbers and its use of energy, now threatens the planet that supports its very existence: for example, by affecting climate and exhausting resources. Proper stewardship of Earth is thus an urgent responsibility of all people.

While everyone, from individuals to countries, must be better stewards of planet Earth, the committee believes that the United States, as a global leader, bears a special responsibility to share its expertise and the knowledge and understanding it develops on how best to care for the planet. Americans must accept a global responsibility, or risk abandoning this important moral high ground to others.

Many people live in areas that are vulnerable to severe weather, flooding, and rising sea levels. Most food production depends on the availability of rainfall, water, and adequately long growing seasons. Earth’s climate is changing, and at the same time, a growing global population is increasing the stresses on natural resources. There are, of course, natural climatic changes, but the consumption of fossil fuels and resulting greenhouse gas emissions are accelerating changes that are predicted to threaten the well-being of people throughout the world.2 The potential consequences of energy generation policy and climate change are tightly linked in ways that could further accelerate changes in the climate system.

While climate change is one of the most important global environmental problems facing the world today, other aspects of Earth stewardship also demand attention. They include improving weather forecasts; developing new tools for monitoring and managing Earth’s water and land resources; and gathering information to quantify and mitigate risks from solar disturbances in space and collisions from asteroids or comets.

A goal of the U.S. civil space program is to reestablish leadership for the


See National Research Council, Understanding and Responding to Climate Change: Highlights of National Academies Reports, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2008.

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