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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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2

Why Do We Go There?

2.1 INTRODUCTION

This chapter contains three separate though inter-related pieces of work, responsive to various elements of the charge to this committee. First, it reports on and presents the results of two outreach efforts from the committee to communities interested in space to gather ideas and inputs that could help inform the committee’s work: a call for white papers on topics related to the committee’s charge and a day of Twitter conversations (hashtag #HumansInSpace). It then elaborates on the considerations that led the committee to formulate the enduring questions presented in Chapter 1. That is followed by a discussion of the rationales that have historically been and still are advanced to justify U.S. engagement in a human spaceflight program; rationales effectively define the goals and aspirations toward which such a program can contribute. Finally, as requested in the committee’s charge, the combination of the rationales is addressed in the language of a value proposition, which provides an alternative way to express rationales for such a program.

2.2 OUTREACH EFFORTS

A difficult but inescapable challenge to the committee’s work was the fact that much of the rationale for human spaceflight is difficult to evaluate with solely quantitative and analytic methods. The cultural significance of human spaceflight resonates in many ways in society. The committee’s examination therefore included consideration of insights from a variety of avenues, including insights provided by popular culture. (Elsewhere in this report, the committee observes, for example, the prevalence of human spaceflight themes in movies, advertisements, and other media.)

As part of its outreach effort, to cast the net as broadly as possible in examining a question that speaks as much to cultural and philosophical concerns as it does to practical benefits, the committee invited comments via social media. In addition to a call for white papers that asked respondents to provide their ideas and thoughts on ensuring a sustainable human spaceflight program, a 1-day Twitter campaign sought the public’s “best ideas” along the same lines. The intention was not to develop a statistically robust sampling frame but to cast a wider net to solicit ideas, thoughts, and perspectives from individuals and groups who were engaged enough with the topic to take the time to respond. Insights gained from such sources as social media and popular culture, although they do not replace the quantitative investigations of public opinion discussed in Chapter 3, have a place in the committee’s inquiry. In economics, for instance, it is commonly accepted that emotional and psychological factors can weigh

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

as heavily in human aspirations and eventual outcomes as hard calculations of cost and benefit. John Maynard Keynes memorably wrote that

a large portion of our positive activities depend on spontaneous optimism rather than material expectations.…Most probably, of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn out over many days to come, can only be taken as the result of animal spirits—a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities.1

Keynes was referring to the decisions of investors, but his observation could reasonably be applied to the academic and career choices of young students, the passion of scientists whose work produces technological and economic bounties of unforeseen character, and explorers venturing into a new frontier.

It is important to note that the logic of the call for white papers, tweets, and similar data inputs does not produce results that can be generalized; that is, they are not results from representative samples of any group or population. No conclusions may be drawn from them about opinions or perceptions of “the public,” nor can any estimates be made about trends or percentages of people who hold one opinion or another. What can be said is that the opinions, positions, and arguments communicated to the committee through those venues are valuable sources of ideas and perspectives that might not otherwise be captured through more traditional polling and sampling methods. Thus, they were useful in the committee’s deliberations and helped to ensure that it did not overlook points of view that might otherwise not be visible.

The committee reached out primarily to key influencers in the science and technology communities who maintain a moderate to high level of attention to space-related topics. Among the social structures that were contacted were science institutions, universities, professional organizations, blogs (for example, Boing Boing, io9, and Wired), and social media (for example, social media at NASA, Tim O’Reilly, and Science Friday).

Respondents to the call for white papers were asked the following questions:

  • What are the important benefits provided to the United States and other countries by human spaceflight endeavors?
  • What are the greatest challenges to sustaining a U.S. government program in human spaceflight?
  • What are the ramifications and what would the nation and world lose if the United States terminated NASA’s human spaceflight program?

Almost 200 white papers were submitted to the committee in response to the call for input.2 Many came from people who were deeply engaged with NASA’s work and contributed thoughtful analyses of specific issues that they believed the committee needed to be better informed about. All were read by two or more committee members, and the committee devoted time to discussing what they had read and to point out important papers for the full committee to read. Ideas that made a strong appearance in the white papers included substantially increasing support and recognition of commercial spaceflight efforts, exploiting space for economic benefits, increasing international partnerships, and increasing focus on technology development.

Participants in the Twitter campaign were asked to answer the following question: What are your best ideas for creating a NASA human spaceflight program that is sustainable over the next several decades? Over a period of 27 hours, tweets and retweets that used the hashtag #HumansInSpace were captured and reviewed.3 The Twitter campaign captured 3,861 tweets and retweets, which came from 1,829 unique users who had a collective 13.75 million followers. Tweets related to the promotion of the campaign itself and all retweets were filtered out. About 1,604 original tweets from 710 unique users directly answered the call for ideas.

Many of the 1,604 tweets provided unique ideas on how to pioneer a sustainable human spaceflight program (Figure 2.1). Ideas that appeared often in the tweets included increasing the frequency of crewed missions, making

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1 J.M. Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Book 4, Palgrave Macmillan, 1936, Chapter 12, Section 7, p. 161.

2 At the time of this writing, these can be viewed at http://www8.nationalacademies.org/aseboutreach/publicviewhumanspaceflight.aspx.

3 Access to the public discussion via Twitter was available at the committee’s website at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DEPS/ASEB/DEPS_085240.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

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FIGURE 2.1 Examples of tweets providing ideas for a sustainable U.S. human-spaceflight program.

laws that allow NASA to focus on consistent long-term planning, investing in more research and development (R&D) directly applicable to prolonged human spaceflight journeys, selecting artists to be astronauts, building more significant partnerships with international and commercial entities, and creating a clear storyline of how robotic and human missions are moving NASA toward the goal of human settlement.

In addition to providing ideas, the tweets and white papers were useful to the committee in reviewing the set of historical rationales presented later in this chapter. All the rationales mentioned in this report were also mentioned frequently in the tweets and white papers. Notably, the survival rationale made a strong appearance in both the white papers and tweets.

2.3 ENDURING QUESTIONS

One of the charges to the committee was to identify the enduring questions that describe the rationale for and value of human exploration in a national and international context. Implicit in that charge is the thought that identifying such enduring questions can help to ensure the continuity and sustainability of choices for the U.S. program in human spaceflight. To address that task, the committee concluded that it was necessary to examine and discuss the historical rationales that have been presented as the reasons for which such a program is needed and useful. This chapter addresses both the enduring questions and the rationales.

Implied in the committee’s charge was the expectation that the committee could find questions that would both deepen the rationales for human spaceflight and provide a long-term compass for the work, as perhaps certain deep-science questions have done for some fields of science. However, the committee, having examined the historic rationales (discussed below) often given for the program, found no new or deeper rationales and no questions that would suggest them. The rationales can be divided into five that the committee calls pragmatic and two that the committee calls aspirational. The pragmatic rationales are related to benefits to economic and technological strength, to national security and defense, to national stature and international relations, to education and inspiration of students and the general public, and to scientific exploration and observation. The two aspirational rationales are human survival and shared human destiny and aspiration (for exploration). Each rationale can be evoked by one or more questions. However, in the context of the more pragmatic rationales, the questions do not lead to motivation specifically for human programs as opposed to motivations for spaceflight and space exploration more generally, including both robotic and human ventures. Furthermore, although the questions are important and will continue to be important, they do not rise to the level that the committee considered was intended by the term enduring question.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

Enduring questions, in the committee’s view, are ones that can serve as motivators of aspiration, scientific endeavor, debate, and critical thinking in the realm of human spaceflight. The questions endure because any answers that are available today are at best provisional and will change as more exploration takes place. Enduring questions should provide a foundation for analyzing choices that is immune to external forces and policy shifts. Enduring questions are intended not only to stand the test of time but also to continue to drive work forward in the face of technological, societal, and economic constraints. The two aspirational rationales, in contrast to the pragmatic rationales, do indeed lead us to ask such questions, which require further efforts in human spaceflight if they are to be answered and which address issues of the future of humankind. They suggest an international rather than a national effort; indeed, given the breadth of the international interest and capability in spaceflight, progress in answering these questions will not depend on the U.S. spaceflight program alone.

The committee asserts that the enduring questions motivating human spaceflight are

  • How far from Earth can humans go?
  • What can humans discover and achieve when we get there?

The questions are deceptively simple, but the committee was convinced that, in the context of any national or international effort in human spaceflight, asking whether a program—or even a pathway step—helps to advance us toward the ability to answer these questions can provide a useful compass in making choices.

The possibility of human spaceflight has inspired a wide variety of questions throughout time, even before it was first accomplished in 1961 with the launch of Yuri Gagarin. Indeed, the task of this committee could be construed as answering the ultimate question: Why explore? At its most fundamental level, human spaceflight is a continuation of human exploration—an extension of the human drive to investigate uncharted territory. In the early 17th century, Johannes Kepler wrote Somnium, a work of science-based fiction that detailed human flight to the Moon on the basis of Copernican astronomy. Somnium explored how humans could conduct lunar astronomy and how the motions of Earth might be studied from the viewpoint of the Moon. The achievement of human flight to the Moon was still another 3 centuries away, but Kepler declared that it was scientifically possible to go there and to ask what we might discover and do when we get there.

The two enduring questions—How far from Earth can humans go? What can humans discover and achieve when we get there?—lead to more specific questions that are more closely linked to historically stated rationales for the U.S. human spaceflight program, such as these:

  • Does humanity have a long-term sustainable future beyond Earth?
  • What are the limits of human adaptability to environments other than Earth?
  • Can humans exploit off-Earth resources for humankind?
  • What can human exploration of celestial bodies—such as the martian system, the Moon, and asteroids—uniquely teach us about the origin of the solar system and the existence of life?
  • How can human spaceflight enhance national security, planetary defense, international relations, and other national and global goals?

In the world of policy-making, where day-to-day pressures and changes in leadership can cause abrupt shifts of direction, enduring questions can help to provide a compass to maintain stability over the long period needed to achieve challenging goals. Similar questions from other fields include these: What is the cure for cancer? How did the universe begin?4 Enduring questions can create a reference frame for comparing past, present, and future policy and for analysis of contemporary applications of it. By asking How far from Earth can humans go? and What can humans discover and achieve when we get there?, the United States can address the fundamental constraints on human exploration at any given time and consider what approaches can contribute to opening up the horizon for that exploration. Continued focus on whether a project or program helps us to answer these questions, or to

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4 National Research Council (NRC), Connecting Quarks to the Cosmos: Eleven Science Questions for the New Century, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003, p. 60.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

change the current conditions that provide limits on the answers to them, can also help to set priorities among alternatives and to eliminate approaches that offer little or no path toward new or better-defined answers. With the enduring questions in mind, this chapter turns next to a discussion of historically stated rationales and some analysis of them in the current context.

2.4 RATIONALES FOR HUMAN SPACEFLIGHT

The committee searched for rationales in various ways. These included reviewing past reports, questioning invited speakers, calling for white papers, reviewing public opinion as described in Chapter 3, and soliciting ideas for a sustainable program via the more novel public input provided by a Twitter event. In essence, the committee found no truly new rationales, although rationales have been grouped and stated in somewhat different ways by speakers and writers. All the arguments that the committee heard for supporting human spaceflight can be assigned to one or more of the categories discussed below. All the rationales have been used in various forms and combinations to justify the program for many years. That such justifications typically cite more than one of these rationales leads the committee to suspect that no one finds any one of them in isolation a convincing argument. As described above, there are essentially two groups of rationales that the committee finds: the pragmatic rationales—including contributions to the economy, national security, national stature and international relations, science, or education—and the more aspirational rationales, which include contributions to the eventual survival of our species and to supporting the human destiny to explore and aspire to challenging goals. One or both of the aspirational rationales of human destiny and human survival typically are invoked in arguing for the value of the program and then supported by reference to one or more of the pragmatic rationales. For the pragmatic rationales, human spaceflight can be a contributor but not the sole contributor.

2.4.1 Economic and Technology Impacts

One of the rationales often stated for government spending on spaceflight is that a vibrant space program produces economic benefits. That rationale encompasses a number of diverse impacts at both the sectoral and economy-wide levels. Some earlier studies argue that spaceflight programs have contributed to the overall productive or technological capabilities of the U.S. economy, strengthening national economic growth and competitiveness in the global economy. At the sectoral level, NASA programs have been credited with supporting the development of new technologies and their broader adoption throughout the economy. Although few if any empirical studies have attempted to compare the effects of NASA R&D investments on innovation with the effects of other federal programs, many studies have argued that NASA programs have contributed substantially to U.S. innovation.5

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5 Representative comments on the innovation-related consequences can be found in the Paine Report, 1986; 1990 Advisory commission; and 1991 Stafford Report. The following passages are from those studies of NASA’s human spaceflight programs:

We are confident…that leadership in pioneering the space frontier will “pull through” technologies critical to future U.S. economic growth, as World War II military developments set the stage for major postwar growth industries. (National Commission on Space, Pioneering the Space Frontier: An Exciting Vision of our Next Fifty Years in Space, Bantam Books, New York, 1986, p. 189.)

The space program produces technology that enhances competitiveness; the largest rise and subsequent decline in the nation’s output of much needed science and engineering talent in recent decades coincided with, and some say may have been motivated by, the build-up and subsequent phase-down in the civil space program. (Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Human Spaceflight Program, Report of the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Human Spaceflight Program, Executive Summary, NASA, Washington, DC, 1990.)

America’s recent history has demonstrated that our space program stimulates a wide range of technological innovations that find abundant applications in the consumer marketplace. Space technology has revolutionized and improved our daily lives in countless ways, and continues to do so. (Synthesis Group on America’s Space Exploration Initiative, America at the Threshold: America’s Space Exploration Initiative, commonly known as the Stafford Report, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1991, available at http://history.nasa.gov/staffordrep/exec_sum.pdf, p. 2.)

An investment in the high technology needed for space exploration maintains and improves America’s share of the global market and enhances our competitiveness and balance of trade. It also directly stimulates the scientific and technical employment bases in our country, sectors whose health is vital to our nation’s economic security. (The Synthesis Group, America at the Threshold, 1991, pp. 2-3.)

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

There are now a substantial space-based element of the communication industry and multiple commercial uses of space-based Earth-observing capability. Clearly, those industries would not exist without the original NASA and Department of Defense (DOD) satellite and rocket development work, but they benefited only modestly, if at all, from human spaceflight programs. NASA’s more recent efforts to foster new transportation systems for delivering cargo and crew to the International Space Station may support a stronger U.S. share in the industries, for example, by reducing the costs of launch services and increasing competition across the sector relative to foreign launch providers.6,7 Some of the companies offering such services are developing diversified business portfolios—including NASA, military, and private customers—but the evidence to test this hope is not yet in.8,9

Other manifestations of NASA’s contribution to the national economy are known as spinoffs (specific technologies) as opposed to macroeconomic indicators that are more difficult to measure. The abundance of discrete spinoffs in which NASA can justifiably claim an important role has been large enough for NASA to produce a substantial publication every year that describes the benefits accrued to several consumer fields from space activities.10 They have included the development of scratch-resistant lenses, water-purification systems, aircraft anti-icing systems, freeze-drying processes, and cryogenic insulation. It is worth noting that NASA’s annual Spinoff publication does not single out benefits of human spaceflight but rather describes benefits of all NASA activities, including aeronautics.11 The committee has not found any reliable analysis that separates those elements, but many of the entries appear to be related to the development of technologies to support human spaceflight.

Although examples of technology transfer can be compelling in fostering public interest in and support for space activities, they do not provide the foundation for a systematic understanding of the relationship between human spaceflight and economic benefit. Over the past few decades, a number of studies have attempted to establish correlation (if not causation) between space activities (both human and robotic) and economy-wide benefits, including the effects on U.S. industrial or technological capabilities. The studies have usually adopted one of three methods: using a macroeconomic production function model to estimate the impact of technological change resulting from R&D spending expressed as a rate of return on a given investment, assessing the returns on specific technologies through cost–benefit ratios, and evaluating the evidence of the direct transfer of technology from federal space programs to the private sector.12 A brief summary of some of the key studies illustrates the kinds of evidence that have been used to argue that a vibrant space program leads to substantial economic benefits at both the micro and macro levels.

A number of studies of the impact of NASA on specific or broad economic indicators were undertaken in the late 1960s. Not all were commissioned by NASA, and almost all focused on local impacts.13 A Stanford Research Institute study in 1968 found that “NASA activities have had a positive and consequential influence on the locali-

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6 J. Oberg, “Russians face their space crisis: Agency chief worries that country’s aerospace industry is becoming uncompetitive,” NBC News, September 28, 2012, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/49217472/ns/technology_and_science-space/t/russians-face-their-space-crisis/#.Ue1OtRaOXGI.

7 Ilya Kramnik, The new war for space is a public-private one, Russia and India Report, April 30, 2012, http://indrus.in/articles/2012/04/27/the_new_war_for_space_is_a_public-private_one_15428.html.

8 A.J. Aldrin, “Space Economics and Commerce,” pp. 179-200 in Space Strategy in the 21st Century (E. Sadeh, ed.), Routledge (Taylor & Francis), London, U.K., 2013.

9 See, for example, “Low-Cost SpaceX Delays 1st Commercial Launch,” which details a backlog of 50 launches reflecting $4 billion in orders, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/26/space-spacex-launch-idUSL2N0JA1XL20131126.

10 NASA, Office of the Chief Technologist, “NASA Spinoff,” http://spinoff.nasa.gov/, last updated August 10, 2011.

11 A recent paper, partly written by NASA representatives, focused on spinoffs from all NASA activities and proposed a set of discrete and quantitative measures for assessing the agency’s impact. The measures included jobs created, revenue generated, productivity and efficiency improvements, lives saved, and lives improved. The early results of a survey suggested favorable numbers for some of the categories. See D. Comstock, D. Lockney, and C. Glass, “A Structure for Capturing Quantitative Benefits from the Transfer of Space and Aeronautics Technology,” (pp. 7-10) paper presented at the International Astronautical Congress, Cape Town, South Africa, October 3-7, 2010, International Astronautical Federation, Paris, France.

12 These approaches are summarized in H.R. Hertzfeld, “Space as an Investment in Economic Growth,” pp. 385-400 in Exploring the Unknown: Selected Documents in the History of the U.S. Civil Space Program, Volume III: Using Space (J.M. Logsdon with R.D. Launius, D.H. Onkst, and S.J. Garber, eds.), NASA, Washington, D.C., 1998.

13 See, for example, W. Isard, Regional Input-Output Study: Recollections, Reflections, and Diverse Notes on the Philadelphia Experience, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1971; W.H. Miernyk, Impact of the Space Program on a Local Economy: An Input-Output Analysis, West Virginia University Press, Morgantown, West Va., 1967.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

ties in the South in which it has established research and development centers and production, testing, and launch facilities.”14

More substantial studies were performed in the 1970s, some of which were directly commissioned by NASA at a time when the agency’s budget was shrinking and the agency was seeking to understand arguments in support of increased investment. In 1971, the Midwest Research Institute issued the results of its analysis of a comprehensive national estimate of the returns on federal R&D expenditures, including those of NASA. It is important to note that the study estimated the national returns from all federal R&D spending on the basis of an analytic framework pioneered by Moses Abramovitz (1956) and Robert Solow (1957) and applied the estimates to NASA R&D spending. In other words, the study assumed that the rate of return on NASA R&D was similar to that on other federal R&D programs rather than much higher or lower. The Midwest study estimated a 7-to-1 return on NASA expenditures and projected a 33 percent discounted rate of return that began with the establishment of NASA in 1958 and was projected through to 1987.15 Although the methodology and results of the study were criticized by many,16,17 its conclusions were cited by NASA and NASA supporters for many years in arguing for the beneficial effects of NASA R&D.18

Perhaps the most important studies that NASA commissioned in the 1970s were those undertaken by Chase Econometrics (in 1976 and 1980). The studies were early attempts to measure overall returns to NASA in terms of measures at the level of the national economy—gross national product (GNP), employment, and productivity. The 1976 study showed that “the historical rate of return from NASA R&D spending is 43 percent.” Chase found that “a sustained increase in NASA spending of $1 billion (1958 dollars) for the 1975–1984 period would” increase the GNP by $23 billion by 1984 (“a 2% increase over the ‘baseline’”).19 Yet both the Chase Econometrics studies and a follow-on study by the Midwest Research Institute in 1988 that came to somewhat similar conclusions were again criticized by the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office).20

Further studies in the 1970s focused on NASA’s contributions to specific fields. The best known of these was the study performed by Mathematica in 1976 that drew attention to NASA’s contribution to four specific technologies: gas turbines, cryogenics, integrated circuits, and a software program widely used for modeling of physical structures (NASTRAN).21 Three of those four benefited from NASA R&D associated with human spaceflight. The Mathematica study defined the economy-wide benefit stream that is attributable to NASA as benefits associated with reductions in the cost of the technologies and acceleration in their development: for example, What is the economic value of being able to use the integrated circuit in non-NASA applications 1 or 2 years earlier than might otherwise have been the case? The study’s analytic approach thus attempted to address one of the most difficult questions in any evaluation of the benefits associated with government R&D investment: What would have happened if the investment had not been made?

The Mathematica study concluded that the economy-wide benefits attributable to NASA’s investment in the development of the four innovations amounted to $7 billion, $5 billion of which was associated with the development of integrated circuits. Inasmuch as that estimated total benefit exceeded NASA’s total 1974 budget, the study

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14 R.W. Hough, “Some Major Impacts of the National Space Program,” Stanford Research Institute, Contract NASW-1722, June 1968, reproduced in Exploring the Unknown, Volume III, 1998, pp. 402-407.

15 Midwest Research Institute, “Economic Impact of Stimulated Technological Activity,” Final Report, Contract NASW-2030, October 15, 1971, reproduced in Exploring the Unknown, Vol. III, 408-414.

16 A summary of the challenges in using the methodology of the Midwest Research Institute study that includes a critique of other studies of the economic benefits of NASA spaceflight programs can be found in H. Hertzfeld, Measuring returns to space research and development, pp. 155-170 in Space Economics (J. Greenberg and H. Hertzfeld, eds.), Progress in Astronautics and Aeronautics, AIAA, Washington, D.C., 1992.

17 Congressional Budget Office criticisms of the Midwest Research Institute study can be found at Reinventing NASA, http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/ftpdocs/48xx/doc4893/doc20.pdf, p. 4.

18 An example of NASA advocates that cited the study uncritically may be found at http://www.penny4nasa.org/category/fight-for-space/.

19 M.K. Evans, “The Economic Impact of NASA R&D Spending,” Executive Summary, Chase Econometric Associates, Inc., Bala Cynwyd, Penn., Contract NASW-2741, April 1976, reproduced in Exploring the Unknown, Volume III, 1998, pp. 414-426.

20 U.S. General Accounting Office, “NASA Report May Overstate the Economic Benefits of Research and Development Spending,” Washington, D.C., 1977, pp. 6-11.

21 Mathematica, Inc., “Quantifying the Benefits to the National Economy from Secondary Applications of NASA Technology—Executive Summary,” NASA CR-2674, March 1976, reproduced in Exploring the Unknown, Volume III, 1998, pp. 445-449.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

concluded that the benefits from NASA were primarily in accelerating the process of bringing technologies into the market place, not necessarily in developing the technologies themselves. Henry R. Hertzfield notes that “because this was a study of four cases and used the more traditional consumer surplus theory of microeconomics, the results were more readily accepted by the economics community than the results of the macroeconomic studies of that era.”22

Further studies in the 1980s generally were geared to justifying large programs, such as a space-station program, rather than a broader approach that focused on R&D as a whole. The Midwest Research Institute issued a study commissioned by the National Academy of Public Administration in 1988, which repeated the study originally done in 1971.23 It estimated a 9-to-1 return on the space program, but the study was subjected to the same types of critiques (methodology and problems with data) that plagued earlier studies, such as the Chase Econometrics study in 197624 and the earlier Midwest study.25

Besides studies at the macroeconomic level, a number of studies in the 1970s and 1980s looked at technology transfer. Commissioned by NASA, the studies examined arguments that the favorable impacts of NASA activities went beyond abstract scientific benefits to the everyday life of the average American. In a similar vein, NASA expanded a program to showcase particular technologies with its annual Spinoff publication (first published in 1976), which highlighted the many different areas of life that have been affected by NASA-related innovations. One common criticism of NASA’s attempts to showcase spinoffs as important to the average American was that “most of the reported technological successes in Spinoff [were] either demonstration projects (that is, not fully commercialized) or public-sector uses of space technology.”26 Although that may lower their value as a public-relations tool, it does not diminish their economic impacts if these were calculated on the basis of actual rather than projected uses.

A more recent study by Henry R. Hertzfeld examined the economic benefits associated with 15 private companies’ successful commercialization of innovations derived from NASA life-sciences R&D programs, most of which are associated with NASA’s human spaceflight activities.27 According to the study, NASA invested roughly $3.7 billion in life-sciences R&D during 1958-1998. The NASA-related R&D investment in the 15 technologies that were the subjects of the study amounted to $64 million, and the companies spent about $200 million in private funds in further development and commercialization activities. The results show that the 15 companies contributed $1.5 billion in value added to the U.S. economy during the 1975-1998 period. Thus, the study highlights the economic benefits associated with successful commercialization of technologies that are based on NASA life-sciences R&D and suggests further that the benefits associated with commercial success are substantial relative to the magnitude of the total NASA R&D investment in the fields in question. A comparison of the benefits of NASA life-sciences R&D associated with human spaceflight and those of other federal biomedical R&D programs is, however, beyond the scope of Hertzfeld’s study.

2.4.1.1 Evaluation of Economic and Technological Rationales

Most economic studies conclude that the federal investment in NASA’s space activities has benefited the U.S. economy, but they also agree that the benefits are difficult or impossible to measure or quantify. The results are particularly inconclusive regarding the degree to which NASA’s human spaceflight programs contribute to economic growth. No systematic attempt has been made by NASA or other analysts to compare the economic benefits of NASA human spaceflight programs with those of other federal R&D programs.28

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22 H.R. Hertzfeld, “Space as an Investment in Economic Growth,” p. 391.

23 Midwest Research Institute, “Economic Impact and Technological Progress of NASA Research and Development Expenditures,” Executive Summary, for the National Academy of Public Administration, September 20, 1988, reproduced in Exploring the Unknown, Volume III, 1998, pp. 427-430.

24 M.K. Evans, “The Economic Impact of NASA R&D Spending,” 1976.

25 Midwest Research Institute, “Economic Impact of Stimulated Technological Activity,” 1971.

26 H.R. Hertzfeld, “Space as an Investment in Economic Growth,” p. 391.

27 H.R. Hertzfeld, Measuring the economic returns from successful NASA life sciences technology transfers, Journal of Technology Transfer 27.4:311-320, 2002.

28 An early study that focused on human spaceflight was M.A. Holman, The Political Economy of the Space Program, Pacific Books, Palo Alto, Calif., 1974. See also M.A. Holman and R.M. Konkel, Manned space flight and employment, Monthly Labor Review 91(3):30, 1968; R.M. Konkel and M. Holman, Economic Impact of the Manned Space Flight Program, NASA, Washington, D.C., January 1967.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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At heart here is a counterfactual issue: even if NASA’s human spaceflight activities have had a substantial favorable effect on U.S. technical, industrial, and innovative capabilities, it is difficult or impossible to ascertain whether similar effects could have resulted from similarly large R&D investment by other federal agencies. Besides that analytical problem, most of the older substantive studies have limited use for the present study for two other reasons: they do not distinguish between robotic and human spaceflight, and they tend to focus on data from the 1960s.29 The latter is an important issue because of the vast disparity between the high levels of funding in the 1960s and those in the 21st century. For example, in fiscal year (FY) 1967, NASA accounted for nearly 30 percent of total federal R&D spending and almost 35 percent of all federally funded development spending.30 By 2009, those shares stood at roughly 4.5 percent and 6 percent, respectively. In addition, reported NASA R&D spending in FY 2009 included a much larger share devoted to robotic space exploration, suggesting that NASA human spaceflight R&D may account for as little as 3-4 percent of total federal R&D spending, and perhaps even less. Such data indicate that it is at best hazardous to use even the imperfect and often inconclusive results of studies that are based on NASA data from the 1960s to project the effects on U.S. innovative performance of the far smaller NASA human spaceflight budgets that are likely to characterize the program for the near future. A more recent review could substantially revise the current understanding of likely economic benefits given the different budgetary footprint of the human spaceflight program of the past 20 years relative to its peak of the 1960s and the high probability that future human spaceflight budgets will resemble those of the post-2000 period more closely than those of the 1960-1970 period. As this report notes below, the complexities of the channels through which the economic benefits of federal R&D investment are realized means that analytically defensible evaluations are rare. Nevertheless, a more recent evaluation could be of value to policy-makers who are seeking to understand the economic impact of NASA programs.

In summary, the economic rationale for a sustainable human spaceflight program is an oft-repeated one that rests on a generally accepted notion that such programs have generated substantial benefits to the U.S. economy. There are many individual examples of technological spinoffs of space activities, especially those involving robotic spaceflight.31 Nonetheless, although the economic and technological benefits of human spaceflight are anecdotally impressive, they are extremely difficult to measure, and the uncertainty in them makes it impossible to compare them with the benefits of other federal investment in R&D that might have achieved the same or better economic results. Moreover, there is little basis on which to predict whether future NASA human spaceflight programs will have anything like the influence on U.S. technological innovation or on the education of scientists and engineers that the programs arguably had during the 1960s, simply because future NASA programs will account for a much smaller share of overall federal R&D and procurement spending. The absence of evidence suggesting that the economic return on investment in NASA human spaceflight is either more or less than the return on other R&D investments made by the federal government, all of which are generally thought to affect the economy favorably, should, of course, not be taken to imply that there is no economic benefit from such investment.

More recently, there has been an emphasis on commercial exploitation of space, either for low Earth orbit (LEO) travel or for going beyond LEO, with ideas of eventual commercial exploitation of space resources. NASA has supported the entry of private companies into the market as cargo or crew transportation providers in early-stage development roles that were previously the territory of NASA centers, for example, designing and developing vehicles to transport goods, and eventually astronauts, to the ISS. Such investment has encouraged a small number of individuals and companies to invest their own resources in addition to the NASA funding that they have received. The hope is that by transferring development risk to a commercial sector, which expects to have a broader customer base and broader income stream than NASA alone, NASA will eventually realize significant cost savings and at the same time stimulate new industries. It remains to be seen whether any of these ventures

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29 R.A. Bauer, Second-order Consequences: A Methodological Essay on the Impact of Technology, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1969; F.I. Ordway III, C.C. Adams, and M.R. Sharpe, Dividends from Space, Crowell, New York, 1971.

30 See National Science Foundation, Federal Funds for Research and Development, Fiscal Years 1951-2002, NSF 03-325, August 14, 2003, http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/fedfunds/; NSF, “Federal Funds for Research and Development, Fiscal Years 2009-2011,” http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf12318/content.cfm?pub_id=4177&id=2; accessed January 21, 2014.

31 For a useful summary of such itemized benefits, see M. Bijlefeld, It Came from Outer Space: Everyday Products and Ideas from the Space Program, Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn., 2003.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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will become self-sustaining and be profitable without NASA, although at least one has a significant backlog of non-NASA orders.

A number of investors have placed large bets that some of those efforts will eventually present continuing business opportunities, and investor interest in the sector is not limited to orbital flights. Wealthy individuals also have invested in suborbital flight opportunities either by starting new companies or by booking seats for planned future suborbital trips and beyond. The prospect of economic return from mining space resources is even more remote; it may exist at some future time, but with current costs and values of resources, back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that it is highly unlikely to become viable within the term of this study, even if the uncertain legal status of off-Earth mining claims is resolved.

Public–private partnerships similar to those involved in development of new transportation systems for the ISS are also under consideration by NASA for broader commercial use of the ISS itself and to encourage other private activity in LEO—for example, to develop commercial space platforms that could lease services or facilities to the government and other users.32 At the same time, NASA is soliciting inputs from commercial entities that are interested in developing capabilities for beyond-LEO exploration efforts. Increased activity in cislunar space may create new opportunities for private interests to enter into partnerships with the agency. NASA recently entered into agreements with three firms to develop commercially sourced capabilities for a robotic lunar lander, and at least one company has been founded with the goal of commercial exploitation of the Moon, including the development of tourism. Other companies have expressed interest in the development of “infrastructure” to support cislunar activity, including development of communication networks and habitats.

A subject of recent commercial interest is the opportunity for exploitation of space resources beyond Earth orbit, which can be achieved robotically. The committee considers even robotic exploitation of space resources for on-Earth use to be highly speculative in that the cost–benefit ratio would need to change substantially for such exploitation to be commercially viable. Exploitation that requires human spaceflight as an element of the work would be much more expensive and hence even less commercially viable.

It is currently impossible to assess whether commercial capabilities will develop to the point where they can create substantial cost savings (on the order of tens of billions of dollars) for NASA human space exploration efforts beyond LEO. In addition, investments to foster new commercial partners may create a tension in NASA in that the goal of facilitation of new commercial ventures can compete with that of exploration (that is, the goal of answering the enduring questions) in making decisions about program priorities.

There is no widely accepted, robust quantitative methodology to support comparative assessments of the returns on investment in federal R&D programs in different economic sectors and fields of research. Nevertheless, it is clear that the NASA human spaceflight program, like other government R&D programs, has stimulated economic activity and has advanced development of new products and technologies that have had or may in the future generate significant economic impacts. It is impossible, however, to develop a reliable comparison of the returns on spaceflight versus other government R&D investment.

2.4.2 National Security and Defense

2.4.2.1 Space and National Security

A second commonly stated rationale is that investment in human spaceflight contributes to national security. DOD and other national security agencies have long recognized the potential advantages of performing various operations from the “high ground” of space. Over the past 3 decades, the number and scope of space-related applications that directly support military operations conducted on or near Earth’s surface have expanded dramatically. However, as discussed below, the role of human spaceflight in such efforts is limited.

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32 NASA, “Evolving ISS into a LEO Commercial Market,” released April 28, 2014, https://prod.nais.nasa.gov/cgibin/eps/synopsis.cgi?acqid=160471.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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The original impetus for developing satellites during the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s was to gather intelligence over the Soviet Union and thereby avoid the inherent risks associated with using piloted aircraft for this purpose. Although the Soviets initially objected to the notion of observing sovereign national territory (particularly its own) from space, they eventually followed suit.33 Both superpowers also subsequently deployed early-warning satellites to detect the launch of ballistic missiles and communication satellites to ensure connectivity between national leaders and their own military forces. The U.S. military operated a small fleet of weather satellites to facilitate strategic planning and targeting. Although those military satellites were occasionally employed in support of routine peacetime activities as well as crises, the underlying rationale for their existence during the Cold War was to support nuclear forces.34

Beginning with the 1991 Gulf War and still continuing, U.S. military services have systematically explored ways in which space systems can also better support conventional military operations. As the technical capabilities of on-orbit systems and related ground equipment have improved, the national security community has relied increasingly on space-based information and services, as the examples below illustrate.

  • Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems can assist in locating, identifying, and targeting enemy forces and in assessing the effects of air, ground, and maritime operations. In 2013, describing its more recent contributions to the “warfighter,” the director of the National Reconnaissance Office noted that “we’ve brought dozens of innovative ISR solutions to the fight. These services, products and tools directly contribute to the highest priority missions, to include: counter-Improvised Explosive Device (IED) efforts; identifying and tracking High-Value Targets; countering narcotics trafficking; and special communications.”35
  • Early-warning satellites can detect the launch of enemy missiles and alert missile-defense units. They can also play an important role in warning civilian populations of impending attack, for example, during the Iraqi Scud missile attacks on Israel and Saudi Arabia in 1991.36
  • The vast majority of all the long-distance communication used by U.S. and allied forces in recent conflicts has been routed through space, including both commercial and military communication satellites. With ever-increasing bandwidth, the most up-to-date intelligence information can now be sent to troops on the ground and to pilots in their cockpits for nearly real-time strikes on sensitive, fleeting targets. The safe and effective operation of remotely piloted aircraft in many cases depends on secure and reliable data links provided by communication satellites.
  • Weather satellites help to forecast conditions that could affect military operations by obscuring targets from aircraft or adversely affecting ground and maritime movements.
  • Originally developed as an aid to long-range navigation across the oceans or featureless terrain, the Air Force’s Global Positioning System (GPS) has proved so accurate and so reliable that older forms of navigation have largely fallen into disuse and become a lost art. In addition, the military has applied GPS to an increasingly wide range of combat and logistical activities, including the development of highly precise munitions that can destroy targets more effectively while producing less collateral damage to the surrounding areas. GPS has also been used with steerable parachutes that can deliver supplies quickly and safely to troops in remote, inaccessible areas.

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33 Excellent accounts of the Eisenhower administration’s space policy are provided in D.A. Day, J.M. Logsdon, and B. Latell, Eye in the Sky: The Story of the Corona Spy Satellites, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1998; and W.A. McDougall, The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Md., 1985, pp. 112-209.

34 For more on the development of the American military’s interest in space, see D.N. Spires, Beyond Horizons: A History of the Air Force in Space, 1947-2007, 2nd ed., Air Force Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colo., 2007; M. Erickson, Into the Unknown Together: The DoD, NASA, and Early Spaceflight, Air University Press, Maxwell AFB, Ala., 2005; and F.G. Klotz, Space Commerce, and National Security, Council on Foreign Relations, New York, 1999, pp. 7-10, http://www.cfr.org/world/space-commerce-national-security-cfr-paper/p8617.

35 Betty Sapp, Director, National Reconnaissance Office, Statement for the Record Before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, U.S. House of Representatives, April 25, 2013, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS29/20130425/100708/HHRG-113-AS29-Wstate-SappB-20130425.pdf.

36 U.S. Department of Defense, Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: Final Report to Congress, Washington, D.C., April 1992, p. 177.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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In light of those examples, it is virtually impossible to imagine how a modern military force could conduct operations successfully in crisis and conflict, or provide disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, without access to the data delivered from and through space systems. For that reason, the national security community has devoted increasing attention in recent years to potential threats to its space systems, whether natural or artificial, including improved capabilities to detect, track, identify, and characterize objects that are orbiting Earth (“space situational awareness”). It is also currently in the process of “recapitalizing” existing satellite constellations, including new generations of even more capable navigation and timing, communication, missile-warning, and meteorological systems.37

2.4.2.2 The Role of Human Spaceflight in National Security

Is it noteworthy that none of the capabilities discussed above depends on human activities in space. The military, in fact, studied and pursued several projects that would involve human spaceflight in the 1960s, including the Dyna-Soar delta-winged orbital vehicle and the Manned Orbiting Laboratory. According to historian David Spires, the latter was justified in the Air Force’s 1961 draft Space Plan as a platform for evaluating potential military missions in space, including “space command posts, permanent space surveillance stations, space resupply bases, permanent orbiting weapon delivery platforms, subsystems, and components.”38 Both programs, however, were eventually terminated because of cost, technical issues, and, in the face of increasing robotic capability, lack of a compelling military requirement for the human element.

Although essentially a NASA program, the U.S. government at one point directed that all U.S. payloads, including national security payloads, be launched with the space shuttle and that the existing fleet of expendable launch vehicles be retired.39 However, after the 1986 Challenger disaster, Congress forbade the shuttle to carry commercial payloads, whereas the intelligence establishment moved its national security payloads to conventional boosters—a move anticipated even before Challenger given the shuttle’s inability to match the originally projected high launch rates. The Air Force opted to concentrate on uncrewed boosters to meet its launch needs even though this placed some restrictions on the size of satellites that could be launched. Termination of the Space Shuttle Program at Vandenberg Air Force Base in December 1989 symbolized the end of Air Force interest in direct participation in human spaceflight. While the Clinton administration’s 1999 DOD space policy did mention that “humans in space may be utilized to the extent feasible and practical to perform in-space research, development, testing, and evaluation as well as enhance existing and future national security space missions,” those missions were not defined.40

National space-policy documents of subsequent administrations did not directly link human spaceflight to national security missions. Rather, the association between human spaceflight and broader policy and goals has been generally described in terms of enhancing national stature and international cooperation, both of which are viewed as important although indirect contributors to overall national security.

During the George W. Bush administration, the 2004 Vision for Space Exploration contained several references to the importance of human spaceflight for broader national security and policy goals, including accelerating the development of critical technologies that underpin and advance the U.S. economy and help to ensure national security, serving as “a particularly potent symbol of American democracy,” and contributing to change and growth in the United States.41 The 2006 National Space Policy did not connect human spaceflight to broader national

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37 General William L. Shelton, Commander, Air Force Space Command, Statement to the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, House Armed Services Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, April 25, 2013, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS29/20130425/100708/HHRG113-AS29-Wstate-SheltonUSAFG-20130425.pdf.

38 D.N. Spires, Beyond Horizons: A History of the Air Force in Space, 1947-2007, 2007, p. 121.

39 RAND National Defense Research Institute, National Security Space Launch Report, Santa Monica, Calf., 2006, p. ix, http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG503.html.

40 U.S. Department of Defense, “Department of Defense Space Policy,” Memorandum for Secretaries of the Military Departments, et al., July 9, 1999, section 4.11.4, http://www.fas.org/spp/military/docops/defense/d310010p.htm.

41 NASA, The Vision for Space Exploration, February 2004, http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/55583main_vision_space_exploration2.pdf.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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policy or security concerns.42 And the 2006 National Security Strategy did not mention space other than in the context of technologies that state and nonstate actors might use “in new ways to counter military advantages the United States currently enjoys.”43

In his 2010 speech at the Kennedy Space Center, President Obama explicitly linked the “capacity for people to work and learn and operate and live safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time” to strengthening “America’s leadership here on Earth.”44 Although the 2010 National Security Strategy explicitly notes that U.S. space capabilities bolster “our national security strengths and those of our allies and partners,” it does not mention human spaceflight in this regard.45 Likewise, the 2010 National Space Policy lays out the Obama administration’s revised approach to human spaceflight but does not link it to broader national policy or security goals.46

2.4.2.3 Evaluation of National Security and Defense Rationales

Both today and for the foreseeable future, direct U.S. national security requirements in space are likely to be met entirely by uncrewed systems. At the moment, there is no compelling rationale for humans in space to carry out national security missions. That said, human spaceflight is not totally irrelevant to national security considerations. The intellectual capital, technical skills, and industrial infrastructure required to design, develop, launch, and operate human-rated spacecraft clearly overlap those involved with robotic spacecraft, including national security payloads, although the size of the NASA human spaceflight program now is so small that it exerts only a modest influence on the portions of the U.S. industrial base that are relevant to national defense.47 In addition, new options may arise, such as rapid suborbital transport of small troop units for special operations, which is under consideration by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force Research Laboratory (the SUSTAIN 2002 and Hot Eagle 2008 concepts).

“Soft power,” or “getting what you want [in international relations] through attraction rather than coercion,” is a benefit of NASA’s human spaceflight programs.48,49 A previous National Research Council (NRC) report recommended that the United States consider “using human spaceflight to enhance the U.S. soft power leadership by inviting emerging economic powers to join with us in human spaceflight adventure.”50 In addition to the economic and industrial benefits that may be generated by those international efforts,51 the soft-power value of human space exploration is rooted in the demonstrated technical achievements required to execute such programs. Using technology to enhance national stature and build a perception of power has useful geopolitical consequences, as both the U.S. Apollo Program and, more recently, the Chinese human spaceflight program have demonstrated. Finally, the international standing needed to have a strong voice in future international agreements about space use and settlement has important security implications. Such a voice will be stronger if the United States has an active presence among the nations that are sending humans into space and supporting space developments.

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42 Executive Office of the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy, U.S. National Space Policy, August 31, 2006, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/national-space-policy-2006.pdf.

43 Executive Office of the President, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, March 2006, p. 44, http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/nsc/nss/2006/index.html.

44 Executive Office of the President, “Remarks by the President on Space Exploration in the 21st Century,” Kennedy Space Center, Fla., April 15, 2010, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-space-exploration-21st-century.

45 Executive Office of the President, National Security Strategy, May 2010, p. 31, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/national_security_strategy.pdf.

46 Executive Office of the President, National Space Policy of the United States, June 28, 2010, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/national_space_policy_6-28-10.pdf.

47 NASA’s total procurement spending in FY 2010 (including uncrewed exploration and aeronautics programs and human spaceflight) was smaller than that of the U.S. Postal Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the Department of Energy (U.S. Census Bureau, Consolidated Federal Funds Report for Fiscal Year 2010, USGPO, 2011).

48 J.S. Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, Public Affairs Press, New York, 2004, p. 2.

49 J. Johnson-Freese, Space as a Strategic Asset, Columbia University Press, New York, 2007, pp. 51-81.

50 See NRC, America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs, 2009, p. 4.

51 One example is the infusion of cash into the Russian space program in the 1990s as the Russians entered the partnership that was developing the International Space Station. That was part of a broader initiative to stabilize the Russian aerospace sector and encourage collaboration after the end of the Soviet system.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Space-based assets and programs are an important element of national security, but the direct contribution of human spaceflight in this realm has been and is likely to remain limited. An active U.S. human spaceflight program gives the United States a stronger voice in an international code of conduct for space, enhances U.S. soft power, and supports collaborations with other nations; thus, it contributes to our national interests, including security.

2.4.3 National Stature and International Relations

A third rationale for human spaceflight is that it contributes to both national stature (viewed both internally and externally) and to the promotion of peaceful international relations.

From an internal perspective, there is little doubt that the U.S. space program has contributed favorably to the national self-image. There are few moments in our national narrative when as a nation of individuals we focus on a single event in real time. It is remarkable that the vast majority of Americans alive at the time—from those who were children to the oldest citizen—can remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot, when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the Moon, when the space shuttle Challenger broke apart, and when the World Trade Center buildings crumbled in the terrorist attack of 9/11. Space exploration has provided such moments through its successes and, equally, through its public disasters, which serve as a reminder of the risks posed by exploration. Thus, in the broadest terms, space exploration makes unique contributions to U.S. political and social culture. It plays a role in defining what it means to be “an American” and reinforces the identity as explorers who take the risk of challenging new frontiers that has long been a part of the national culture and history. The desire to be “the best” and to maintain this identity as a country that undertakes bold ventures serves for some as a rationale for continued space exploration efforts. As will be discussed further in Chapter 3, space exploration is not a primary concern for most Americans but remains a source of pride.

The U.S. space program has since its inception been viewed as a contributor to U.S. international prestige and stature. Initial robotic efforts ramped up rapidly and immediately after the success of Sputnik as a direct response to a perceived threat of Soviet dominance of space and the implied possibility of military use. The large increases in funding to undertake human spaceflight during the Apollo program were supported by President Kennedy as a way to take the lead in space and demonstrate U.S. technological superiority to the world. Joint efforts with other nations have since become a larger part of the human-spaceflight element of NASA’s programs, and these cooperative ventures have played a role in reinforcing international relationships at the same time as they serve other national goals, including the enhancement of U.S. soft power, as discussed in the previous subsection. As more nations venture into space and engage in human spaceflight, one rationale frequently articulated for continued U.S. human spaceflight is the need to be engaged in this domain in order to have a strong and ongoing voice in any international agreements that are needed so that the United States can guard against aggression from space and participate in setting policies regarding exploitation of possible space resources or possible space settlement. A number of individuals who presented before the committee drew an analogy with international agreements about exploration and use of Antarctica.52

2.4.3.1 Evaluation of National Stature and International Relations Rationales

There is a potential tension between engagement in human spaceflight as a demonstration of national capability and stature and engagement in cooperative projects in human spaceflight as an element of international cooperation that contributes to relationships that foster international stability. National stature is a subjective judgment that is made differently by different communities and nations; however, it is fair to say that human spaceflight is a peaceful activity that, in most eyes, increases the stature of those who achieve it (both the individuals and the nations that support them). Furthermore, when such achievements occur in internationally cooperative projects, they involve a level of negotiation and international trust that produces positive international relationships provided

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52 P. Ehrenfreund, M. Race, D. Labdon, Responsible space exploration and use: Balancing stakeholder interests, New Space 1/2(201):60-72, http://www2.gwu.edu/~spi/NEW_Space.2013.0007.pdf, 2013.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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that all sides meet their obligations under the agreements. The international cooperation required to agree on goals and to maintain and revise programs through technical milestones can have broader benefits in developing or helping to maintain strong international relationships that go beyond the human-spaceflight endeavor and affect the overall relationships of the nations involved. As U.S. human spaceflight programs transitioned from the competitive stance of the 1960s to the cooperative stance of the ISS program, the United States continued to maintain a leadership position in funding and carrying out the work and thereby served the goals of both national stature and international relationships. Choosing to pursue an international cooperative path to a science or exploration goal may on the one hand lead to cost-sharing that potentially reduces U.S. costs and on the other bind the United States to continue supporting the project or face adverse consequences for its international reputation. Cooperative agreements can lend stability to international efforts that are less likely to be subject to year-to-year funding fluctuations than national projects that lack such agreements to maintain them.

International cooperation on the ISS served to support and employ Russian rocket scientists at a time of instability when the breakup of the Soviet Union put its nuclear and rocket capabilities at risk of contributing to nuclear proliferation, and it arguably helped to prevent such an outcome. In a letter to Representative Sensenbrenner, Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Barbara Larkin described the Department of State’s position as “seeking to keep Russia constructively engaged in the international arena and perhaps more importantly, Russian participation in the ISS plays a vital role in our non-proliferation program.”53 Secondary considerations included access to Russian technology and a desire to help Russia to maintain a peaceful emblem of superpower status—its human spaceflight program.54 This continuing space partnership has been a favorable element of the U.S.-Russia relationship. However, the extent of the effect on the bilateral international relationships is hard to quantify. U.S.Russia relationships were changing for many reasons at the time and are doing so as this report goes to press.

To achieve such highly ambitious goals as sending humans to the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and Mars, international cooperation is probably essential to exploit worldwide expertise, share costs and eliminate duplication of efforts, and maintain the course over the long term needed for success. In this context, the technological roadmaps of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG), which represent the work of representatives of 14 space agencies, are particularly notable: In 2007, a report titled Global Exploration Strategy: The Framework for Cooperation55 was released as the first product of an international coordination process among the agencies. Two global exploration roadmaps that build on the discussion of ISECG members have followed.56 The cooperative work that was required to develop those plans has built a network among the space agencies of the nations involved that contributes, with many other such networks, to peaceful relationships among the nations. True international cooperation on such projects as human spaceflight needs to be built on the basis of shared planning and requires long-term agreements, which in turn can contribute to well-chosen pathways and goals for the program and to the stability of program goals through changes in administrations in any one of the partner countries.

Being a leader in human space exploration enhances international stature and national pride. Because the work is complex and expensive, it can benefit from international cooperative efforts. Such cooperation has important geopolitical benefits.

2.4.4 Education and Inspiration

Many have argued that the space program has an important role in inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers and in educating them. In prior documents reviewed by the committee and in presentations to the committee, that role has been advanced as one of the rationales for supporting human spaceflight.

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53 Barbara Larkin (Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, Department of State) to Representative James Sensenbrenner, December 22, 1998. Cited in J. Johnson-Freese, Space as a Strategic Asset, 2007, p. 67.

54 J.M. Logsdon and J.R. Millar, U.S.-Russia cooperation in human spaceflight: Assessing the impacts, Space Policy 3:171-178, 2001.

55 International Space Exploration Coordination Group, Global Exploration Strategy: The Framework for Cooperation, 2007, http://www.globalspaceexploration.org/documents.

56 ISECG, http://www.globalspaceexploration.org, accessed January 6, 2014.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Indeed, the U.S. government made spending on science education at all levels a fundamental component of the massive investment in the aftermath of the Soviet Sputnik satellite in 1957 and passage of the National Defense Education Act in 1958 (Public Law 85-164). Many who later became NASA scientists, engineers, and astronauts point to Sputnik and the Apollo program as their childhood inspiration and to the opportunities to study and make careers in NASA-related fields that that funding offered as critical to their educational experience.

The drive to use space to inspire students to pursue science and engineering careers motivated Congress to authorize and NASA programs to attach high priority to the expenditure of a small fraction of every NASA effort for programs labeled Education and Public Outreach (EPO). The programs have included those directed to K-12–age students in and out of school, programs in science museums, opportunities for students and the public to contribute to particular science projects by engaging in “participatory exploration” or “citizen science,” and programs that support graduate study in NASA-needs areas. Different NASA directorates have emphasized different elements of this spectrum of programs. The human spaceflight program has recognized and used the inspirational role that astronauts can have for young students as an element of its outreach. Astronauts interact with elementary-school and middle-school students on the ground and from the ISS. The nation remembers that one of those who died in the Challenger disaster was a teacher, Christa McAuliffe, whose job aboard the space shuttle was to have been to conduct demonstrations of basic science experiments and talks for students. Such EPO efforts no longer garner a legislatively mandated fraction of NASA project spending, but they continue to have high priority in the agency.

The human space-exploration program is still often cited in NASA-related reports and in presentations to this committee as an inspiration to students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. It would take a detailed survey beyond the scope of this study to separate the role of human and robotic science projects in this respect or to compare NASA-related inspiration with inspiration from other sources.

It has been widely stated that attracting enough students to STEM careers57,58 is critical to the nation’s competitiveness, economic health, and development. Research has documented a decline in U.S. student interest in those fields, most notably the landmark research that produced the 1983 report A Nation at Work: Education and the Private Sector.59 The 2012 National Science Foundation Science and Engineering Indicators report on science and technology60 showed little to no improvement over the years on a number of indicators, whereas other countries have greatly increased production of STEM students, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics reports industry CEOs’ concern about the lack of incoming science and technology students, noting that the majority of them are of foreign origin.61 The 2008 General Social Survey62 found that the majority of Americans in all demographic groups believe that the quality of science and mathematics education in U.S. schools is inadequate; a 2007 Gallup poll63 reported that about half of all Americans believed that their local schools did not put enough emphasis on teaching science and mathematics, and just 2 percent said that there was “too much” emphasis on these subjects. The President’s Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy in 2004 noted that long-term competitiveness requires a skilled workforce and that the ability of American children to compete in the 21st century was in decline compared with those in other countries.64 One of its conclusions was that space exploration “can be a catalyst for a much-needed renaissance in math and science education in the United States… [and] offers an extraordinary opportunity to stimulate math, science and engineering

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57 NASA, Societal Impact of Spaceflight, NASA SP-2007-4801, Washington, D.C., 2007.

58 Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007, pp. 9-10.

59 National Advisory Council on Vocational Education, A Nation at Work: Education and the Private Sector, National Alliance of Business, Washington, D.C., 1983.

60 National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators 2012, NSB 12-01, National Science Foundation, Arlington, Va., 2012.

61A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover: Report of the President’s Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy, ISBN 0-16-073075-9, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 2004, p. 41.

62 The 2008 General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, data collected between April 17, 2008, and September 13, 2008, a new cross-sectional survey of 2,023 cases.

63 L.C. Rose and A. Gallup, The 39th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, Phi Delta Kappan 89(1):33-48, 2007.

64A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover, 2004, p. 12.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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images

FIGURE 2.2 Earthrise as seen from the Moon and captured by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders. SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA.

excellence for America’s students and teachers.”65 In contrast, multiple economic manpower studies dispute the claim of a shortage of trained scientists and engineers, and indeed demand for particular professional skills can fluctuate with economic shifts. However, almost all analysts agree that a rising fraction of jobs, particularly those in manufacturing, require a higher level of technical capabilities and science-related skills than in the past, and they do not dispute the need for basic education in STEM fields even for those who will not become scientists and engineers. NASA education programs have often been geared as much to that broader goal as to the more specific one of increasing output of scientists and engineers, and one cannot pursue the latter without at the same time considering the former.66

Not only students but also a broader public has been inspired and affected by human space exploration. Time Magazine’s “Photo of the 20th Century,” Earthrise as seen from the Moon captured by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders (Figure 2.2), and other iconic images of the view of Earth from space have given humankind a new perspective from which to view our planet.

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65A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover, 2004, p. 12.

66 NRC, NASA’s Elementary and Secondary Education Program: Review and Critique, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2008, p. 21-43.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

2.4.4.1 Evaluation of Education and Inspiration Rationales

Although education effects are, like economic effects, difficult to quantify, there is no doubt that for some the vision of the frontier with astronauts as explorers provides an added inspiration and impetus for study of challenging STEM subjects.67 It motivates, and in the view of this committee justifies, NASA’s efforts to engage in public outreach efforts and to communicate its challenges and its achievements to the public.

A 2008 NRC study of NASA education programs68 concluded that NASA’s education efforts should capitalize on its science and exploration activity and its scientists and engineers to engage and inspire young students to become interested in science. The report also suggested that to have the strongest effect NASA, in its education and outreach efforts, should partner with institutions that have more direct understanding of formal or informal science education. The study viewed NASA’s expenditures on outreach and education programs as worthwhile for education but assumed that the expenditures on spaceflight programs were justified by other rationales.

To state those conclusions more strongly: Although the effect on students can be used as a rationale for some spending on EPO efforts within the human spaceflight program, few in the education realm would view this effect itself as a rationale for funding the human spaceflight program. The sources of inspiration and engagement of students in science today are many, and whereas NASA human spaceflight clearly appeals to and inspires some students, it is not unique in this role.69 Furthermore, whereas initial engagement or inspiration can be important and memorable, the path to becoming a scientist or engineer requires more; it depends on continuing educational experiences that build on and support a student’s interest and converts it from a casual interest to an identity that causes the student to persevere as the path becomes more challenging.70,71

The United States needs scientists and engineers and a public that has a strong understanding of science. The challenge and excitement of space missions can serve as an inspiration for students and citizens to engage with science and engineering although it is difficult to measure this. The path to becoming a scientist or engineer requires much more than the initial inspiration. Many who work in space fields, however, report the importance of such inspiration, although it is difficult to separate the contributions of human and robotic spaceflight.

2.4.5 Scientific Exploration and Observation

Exploration of our solar system and objects within it for the purpose of gaining a better scientific understanding of them is a major goal of science. Exploring physics, chemistry, and biology in low-gravity environments offers additional scientific horizons. In both of those endeavors, the U.S. space program has been reviewed and projected in major NRC studies, and studies have discussed which parts of the program can be achieved through human spaceflight.72,73,74 A similar review of the European Space Agency (ESA) science programs also discussed both robotic and human elements.75 In specific contexts, human spaceflight and robotic missions can play complementary roles, and achieving certain science goals has been cited as another rationale for human spaceflight. All those studies have discussed the importance of including science goals in planning human spaceflight and considering

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67 R. Monastersky, Shooting for the Moon, Nature 460(7253):314-315, 2009.

68 NRC, NASA’s Elementary and Secondary Education Program, 2008, p. 113-118.

69 NRC, Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2009, p. 100-102.

70 K.A. Renninger and K.R. Riley, Interest, cognition, and the case of L- in science, pp. 325-382 in Cognition and Motivation: Forging an Interdisciplinary Perspective (S. Kreitler, ed.), Cambridge University Press, New York, 2013.

71 K.A. Renninger and S. Su, Interest and its development, pp. 167-187 in Oxford Handbook of Motivation (R. Ryan, ed.), Oxford University Press, New York, 2012.

72 NRC, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2011.

73 NRC, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2011.

74 NRC, The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon: Final Report, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.

75 European Science Foundation, Independent Evaluation of ESA’s Programme for Life and Physical Sciences in Space (ELIPS): Final Report, Strasbourg, France, December 2012.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

it as an element of a science program that also includes robotic missions. The particular skill of humans in noticing anomalous or emergent features and events and rapidly scanning an environment for sought features is what continues to give humans an edge over robots in the context of exploratory science even though robotic programs are typically easier (although still extremely complex and challenging) and, on a per-mission basis, much less expensive. For example, the ISECG roadmaps, produced through the cooperation of many space agencies, suggest that a mix of robotic and human missions will best enable the science and at the same serve the more aspirational goal of extending human presence further into space.

After more than 4 decades of planetary exploration by the space-faring nations, a transition point has come. The initial phase of planetary reconnaissance is closing as Voyager’s two spacecraft pass through the heliopause and leave the solar system and as the New Horizons spacecraft proceeds on its way to Pluto. The intensive robotic observation phase is now well under way. A number of missions are intensively studying many of the bodies of our planetary system. MESSENGER is still sending back observations from Mercury; DAWN has just visited the asteroid Vesta and is on its way to Ceres; Cassini is still making important discoveries regarding Saturn, its rings, and its moons; and the Juno mission will encounter Jupiter in 2016. The rationale for those missions and their predecessors followed the imperative from the founding National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 to carry out the exploration of space.76 Missions were chosen through extensive consultation with the science community with due recognition of the engineering and budgetary realities. Starting a decade ago, the planetary-exploration missions have followed the successful practice of the astronomy and astrophysics community by carrying out decadal surveys, which were combined with roadmap exercises.

The course of human in situ studies of the bodies of our solar system has had a more complex history. The Apollo program, which successfully landed astronauts on the Moon, was engendered by political considerations during the Cold War era. As it developed, however, it took on an increasingly scientific cast, and astronauts undertook scientist-guided experiments that have led to a dramatic revision of knowledge of the lunar surface and of understanding of lunar genesis and history. With the termination of the Apollo program, however, progress toward further human in situ investigations has been constrained.

The participation of humans in landing on and exploring the surfaces of the Moon and Mars is now being studied, but no new missions have been undertaken by the United States or its international partners. An essential motive for reviving human exploration is the recognition that the alert examination of nature has been the route to many of the most dramatic discoveries in science and that further such discoveries are likely when humans can investigate the surfaces of the Moon and Mars directly. In this context, major spacefaring nations are currently engaging in robotic space missions that target the environment “where humans can go,” namely, the Moon, the martian system, and near-Earth objects. Many of these missions have the dual goals of achieving steps toward eventual human missions and doing scientific research.

The Moon represents a window through which the origin and evolution of our solar system, as well as the dynamics of the Earth-Moon system, can be explored.77 The rich science that can be conducted on and from the Moon can add value to those pathways to Mars that include intermediate missions to the lunar surface, provided that the missions are also designed to address high-priority elements of this science. Several orbiters from the United States, Europe, Japan, India, and China have obtained data with unprecedented resolution in the past decade, leading to new discoveries. The first soft-landing mission from the Chinese Space Agency, Chang’e 3, arrived in early December 2013. China is the third nation to have achieved that goal, and further missions are projected, perhaps including an eventual human landing and return.

NASA’s successful multidecadal Mars program of orbiters and rovers and Europe’s MarsExpress spacecraft have contributed much to the reconnaissance of our sister planet. Through NASA’s strategy to “follow the water” and the detailed mapping of the surface mineralogy from orbit and at specific landing sites, excellent data on the evolutionary history and habitability of Mars have been collected. The NASA rovers Opportunity and Curiosity continue operating on the surface, and their science teams continue to generate reports of new scientific findings.

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76 National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, Public Law 85-568, 72 Stat., 426, signed on July 29, 1958.

77 NRC, The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon, 2007.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

Near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) constitute a threat to humankind and life on Earth. The recent Chelyabinsk meteor event, which affected more than 1,000 people, contributed much to public awareness about NEAs. The investigation of NEAs has a dual purpose: to gather data for hazard mitigation and to add to understanding of the early solar system and the impact history of early Earth. The proximity of NEAs also makes them ideal targets for the exploration of raw materials that could eventually be subject to exploitation for commercial use or to support interplanetary journeys. The Japanese asteroid-sample return mission Hayabusa achieved the first sample return from the asteroid Itokawa in 2010.

In recent decades, international space-exploration working groups have defined key drivers in science and technology for exploring the Moon, Mars, and NEAs. In particular, the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG), the International Lunar Exploration Working Group, the Mars Exploration Program and Analysis Group (MEPAG),78 and the International Primitive Exploration Working Group have provided extensive roadmaps with strong support from the science community. They are continually updated and provide constructive and strong rationales that every space agency can use to develop space-exploration plans and architectures. They have included both robotic and human missions in their considerations.

Key scientific drivers of lunar exploration, as discussed in recent roadmaps, include investigating the bombardment history of the inner solar system that is uniquely revealed on the Moon, the structure and composition of the lunar interior and lunar crustal rocks that lead to understanding of evolutionary planetary processes, and lunar poles that may harbor important volatiles. Many of these goals are or will be addressed robotically in the coming years by an international fleet of spacecraft; however, many spacefaring nations also have plans for human exploration missions, including outposts. The added value of a human return to the Moon includes efficient sample identification and collection, enhanced sample-return capacity, and increased opportunities for serendipitous discoveries. Furthermore, synergistic robotic-human exploration of the Moon would facilitate large-scale exploratory activities (such as drilling), deployment, and maintenance of complex equipment and would provide operational experience for future Mars exploration.79

Key scientific drivers of the exploration of Mars as defined by MEPAG80 are a determination of whether life ever arose on Mars, an understanding of the processes and history of climate on Mars, an understanding of the evolution of the surface and interior of Mars, and an understanding of what is needed to prepare for human exploration.81 Similar goals are discussed in the 2011 NRC decadal report on planetary science.82 To prepare for human exploration of Mars, research on many topics is needed, including atmospheric measurements, biohazard and planetary protection, in situ resource utilization (ISRU), radiation, toxic effects of martian dust on humans, atmospheric electricity, effects of dust on surface systems, and trafficability.83 Some of those technological challenges are discussed in Chapter 4.

In summary, the scientific drivers of past planetary exploration have had a common theme. The overall scientific driver is to understand how our solar system came into being and how it has evolved. A different kind of historical question has also served as a powerful driver for planetary exploration: Has life existed on other bodies of our solar system, and does it exist today? Mars is one of several promising sites in the solar system to search for life,84 and although it is an unlikely locale for life today, there has been liquid water on the martian surface in the past, and some form of life might well have existed there. Both questions have relevance to Earth. As noted in a recent review, “Human space exploration can eventually help answer some of the main questions of our existence, namely how our solar system formed, whether life exists beyond Earth and what our future may be.”85

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78 See the MEPAG website, http://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/.

79 I. Crawford, M. Anand, M. Burchell, et al., “The Scientific Rationale for Renewed Human Exploration of the Moon,” white paper submitted to the National Research Council Planetary Science Decadal Survey, http://www8.nationalacademies.org/ssbsurvey/publicview.aspx, 2009.

80 It should be noted that MEPAG goals are not limited to ones that would be pursued through human exploration.

81 Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), “Mars Scientific Goals, Objectives, Investigations, and Priorities” (J.R. Johnson, ed.), white paper posted September 2010, http://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/reports/index.html.

82 NRC, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, 2011.

83 MEPAG, “Mars Scientific Goals, Objectives, Investigations, and Priorities,” 2010.

84 Other bodies cited include Enceladus and Europa for their extant liquid water and Titan for its extensive organics and Earth-like processes.

85 P. Ehrenfreund, C. McKay, J.D. Rummel, B.H. Foing, C.R. Neal, T. Masson-Zwaan, M. Ansdell, et al., Toward a global space exploration program: A stepping stone approach, Advances in Space Research 49:2-48, 2012.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

2.4.5.1 Human Spaceflight in Low Earth Orbit: The International Space Station

The ability to conduct laboratory science in LEO was a major rationale for and goal of the International Space Station (ISS) program. The science can be divided into two major categories: the study of human factors and physical phenomena in space in order to enable longer-range exploration and studies that benefit from the low gravity and the human-staffed laboratory provided by the ISS that are not necessarily related to enabling human spaceflight. Both are discussed below; however, it should be kept in mind that the second category is the only one that is conducted primarily to benefit science rather than to further human spaceflight. The impacts of human-factors science on Earth-based medical treatments make up the type of spinoff that is included in the discussion of economic rationales.

In the past decade, scientists and astronauts have performed research to prepare for human exploration—research related to lack of gravity, altered circadian rhythms, and increased exposure to cosmic radiation. The investigation of adaptations of the human body to extraterrestrial conditions is of utmost importance for safeguarding human health during exploratory missions.86 NASA ISS science is focused on the Human Research Program (HRP), which is aimed at research and technology that will enable productive and healthy human work and life in space (Figure 2.3). NASA has identified a set of risks to humans, including radiation, bone and muscle loss, increased intracranial pressure, and other physiologic responses to the microgravity environment. The role of the HRP is to characterize these risks and explore mitigating factors—or to determine which risks cannot be mitigated. The HRP’s role in enabling an extended human presence in cislunar space and beyond is therefore critical.

ESA, through its European Programme for Life and Physical Science in Space (ELIPS), makes Europe the largest scientific user of the ISS at present.87 ELIPS conducts studies in support of exploration that involve radiation biology and physiology and health-care, life-support, and contamination studies. (See recent evaluation by the European Science Foundation.88) An example of the benefits of human-tended laboratory research onboard the ISS may emerge from a suite of plasma-physics experiments called PK-3. Conducted by Russian and European researchers in multidisciplinary teams, the project has produced a new type of matter called cold atmospheric plasma (CAPs) that has antibacterial properties against dozens of organisms.89,90 In laboratory and clinical trials, applications of CAPs show promise for clinical applications, particularly wound healing.91,92,93 Cold plasmas do not occur on Earth and could not have been discovered without human-tended experiments conducted in microgravity.94

In the most recent addition to the ISS, the Japanese experiment module Kibo, scientists perform experiments on space medicine, biology, and biotechnology in addition to Earth observations. Through Kibo’s airlock, experiments can be transferred and exposed to the external environment of space and manipulated with robotic arms. Both the U.S. and Russian ISS research programs also have a major emphasis on studies of human performance and endurance in space and on ways in which they can be supported and extended. Other ISS science experiments explore fluid dynamics in microgravity and other physical-science phenomena in the environment of space.

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86 C.A. Evans, J.A. Robinson, J. Tate-Brown, et al. International Space Station Science Research: Accomplishments During the Assembly Years: An Analysis of Results from 2000-2008, 2008, http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/389388main_ISS%20Science%20Report_20090030907.pdf.

87 Since 2002, 15 European countries have invested in the ELIPS program, which is running in its fourth term (ELIPS-4) and involves more than 1,500 scientists.

88 European Science Foundation, Independent Evaluation of ESA’s Programme for Life and Physical Sciences in Space (ELIPS): Final Report, Strasbourg, France, December 2012.

89 H. Thomas, “Complex Plasma Applications for Wound Healing,” presentation at the 2nd Annual International Space Station Research and Development Conference, Denver, Colo., July 13, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbhlA0OON4s.

90 T. Miasch, T. Shimizu, Y.-F. Li, J. Heinlin, S. Karrer, G. Morfill, and J. Zimmermann, Decolonization of MRSA, S aureus and E. coli by cold-atmospheric plasma using a porcine skin model in vitro, PLoS ONE 7(4):e34610, 2012.

91 Plasma Technologies, http://www.ptimed.com/index.html, accessed October 12, 2013.

92 G. Isbary, G. Morfill, H.U. Schmidt, M. Georgi, K. Ramrath, J. Heinlin, S. Karrer, et al., A first prospective randomized controlled trial to decrease bacterial load using cold atmospheric argon plasma on chronic wounds in patients, British Journal of Dermatology 163:78-82, 2010, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2133.2010.09744.x.

93 G. Isbary, T. Shimizu, J.L. Zimmermann, H.M. Thomas, G.E. Morfill, and W. Stolz, Cold atmospheric plasma for local infection control and subsequent pain reduction in a patient with chronic post-operative ear infection, New Microbes and New Infections 1:41-43, 2013, doi:10.1002/2052-29775.19/full.

94 Thomas, “Complex Plasma Applications for Wound Healing,” 2013.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

images

FIGURE 2.3 Expedition 36/37 Flight Engineer Karen Nyberg of NASA uses a fundoscope to take still and video images of her eye while in orbit. This was the first use of the hardware and new vision-testing software. SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA, http://www.nasa.gov/content/it-s-all-in-your-head-nasa-investigates-techniques-for-measuring-intracranial-pressure/.

In 2010, Congress directed NASA to contract with a nongovernment organization to manage the ISS National Laboratory, which accounts for half the volume and resources allocated to utilization of the U.S. segment of the ISS.95 The mission of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) is to identify and develop science and applications for the benefit of human activities and life on Earth “and for the public good.”96 Microgravity research conducted during the Space Shuttle era produced an analogue of muscle-wasting and bone-loss syndromes on Earth that can be studied in an accelerated timeframe because of rapid changes on orbit relative to slower clinical progression on Earth.97 Other research identified changes in genetic expression obtained only in microgravity. Those findings and others have led Fortune 500 companies—including Procter & Gamble, Merck, and Novartis—to invest in flight projects now destined for the ISS National Laboratory with its longer-duration flight opportunities in the hope of using microgravity research to facilitate commercial product development.98

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95 2010 NASA Authorization Act.

96 CASIS Strategic Plan.

97 L. Stodieck, AMGEN countermeasures for bone and muscle loss in space and on Earth in Proceedings of the 2nd Annual International Space Station Research and Development Conference, Denver, Colo., July 2013, American Astronautical Society, Washington, D.C., http://www.astronautical.org/sites/default/files/issrdc/2013/issrdc_2013-07-17-0800_stodieck.pdf.

98 Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), “Supporting Entrepreneurs in Space,” October 1, 2013, http://www.iss-casis.org/NewsEvents/NewsDetail/tabid/122/ArticleID/87/ArtMID/581/Supporting-Entrepreneurs-in-Space.aspx.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

The life and microgravity science decadal survey conducted by the NRC, which resulted in the 2011 report Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era,99 investigated objectives for life-sciences and physical-sciences research to support future exploration missions. The research portfolio recommended ground-based and space-based experiments that included investigations of “the effects of the space environment on life support components, the management of the risk of infections to humans, and fundamental physical challenges.”100 Since then, the life-sciences research portfolio has focused on an integrated pursuit to manage health risks to space explorers while at the same time advancing fundamental science discoveries. A key point is that the ISS affords the opportunity to conduct laboratory science that explores the use of microgravity as a tool for examining a number of physical and biological processes. For the foreseeable future, investigations of this sort will require human beings to configure experiments and perform multiple runs. Those activities cannot be performed by robots. Thus, the opportunities for science returns that could yield revolutionary systems and input to exploration architectures depend on human-tended research onboard the orbiting ISS laboratory.

2.4.5.2 Evaluation of Scientific Exploration and Observation Rationales

As various studies have argued,101 human spaceflight, planned in coordination with robotic missions, can help to address important science goals. Answering the enduring question of how far humans can go into space requires further scientific research on the effects of long-term stays in space on human physiology and psychology. Human spaceflight can certainly benefit from further investment in that science. However, the inverse—that science benefits from human spaceflight—must be examined on a case-by-case basis. For planetary science, a cost/risk/benefit analysis is required at each stage to decide whether the path to the science is best served by human or by robotic missions. Science done in LEO, other than that directed at furthering human exploration, provides a rationale only for LEO. In addition, in order for the human spaceflight program to serve science well, it is important that scientists and science goals play a role in mission planning.

The relative benefits of robotic versus human efforts in space science are constantly shifting as a result of changes in technology, cost, and risk. The current capabilities of robotic planetary explorers, such as Curiosity and Cassini, are such that although they can go farther, go sooner, and be much less expensive than human missions to the same locations, they cannot match the flexibility of humans to function in complex environments, to improvise, and to respond quickly to new discoveries. Such constraints may change some day.

2.4.6 Survival

Long-term survival of the human species is often cited in the space community,102 by futurists,103 and by space enthusiasts104 as a rationale for human spaceflight. Robotic spacecraft have given scientists insights into some of our potential futures by probing the history of other planets in our solar system. Through space exploration, we have discovered the runaway greenhouse effect on Venus, recognized that Mars effectively “dried up” 3 billion years ago, and monitored the decline of Earth’s ozone layer. It is often said that it is difficult to know one’s own country until one visits other countries; in the same sense, space exploration has given us the ability to know our own planet better as we contrast it with others. By continuing to obtain scientific knowledge of other planets and our own, we become more aware of Earth’s fragile nature.

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99 NRC, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration, 2011.

100 Ibid.

101 See NRC, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, 2011, and Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration, 2011, both published by The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

102 M. Huang, Sagan’s rationale for human spaceflight, The Space Review, November 8, 2004, http://www.thespacereview.com/article/261/1.

103 S. Brand, Space Colonies, Penguin Books, New York, 1977.

104 G. Anderson, A rationale for human spaceflight, The Space Review, 2011, http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1920/1.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

Proponents of the survival rationale point to various types of future events as cause for concern: the depletion of global resources to such an extent that civilization can no longer be sustained on Earth; the likelihood—always from a probabilistic standpoint—that Earth will suffer a collision with an asteroid or comet of sufficient size to disrupt civilization or even cause the extinction of humankind; and extreme excursions in solar activity (including coronal mass ejections) or other far-future developments in the evolution of the Earth-Sun system that would make Earth uninhabitable.105 Discussion of this rationale requires consideration of how far in the future the events are likely to occur and of whether amelioration of their effects is more feasible than moving a self-sustaining population off Earth. Amelioration seems on its face to be far more plausible for all but planet-clearing events.106 However, it is equally clear that without continuing investment in human exploration, questions of possibility, timeline, and cost associated with an off-Earth settlement cannot be answered.

The survival rationale can be directly paired with the “ultimate goal” of human settlement on another celestial body. The most recent Augustine report from 2009, Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation, concluded that “there was a strong consensus within the Committee that human exploration also should advance us as a civilization towards our ultimate goal: charting a path for human expansion into the solar system. It is too early to know how and when humans will first learn to live on another planet, but we should be guided by that long-term goal.”107 Indeed, in the present committee’s recently collected Twitter-based commentary, survival of the human species by way of an off-Earth settlement was repeatedly mentioned as a strong rationale for continuing to advance the frontier of human spaceflight beyond LEO.

Some scientists who are both distinguished and well-known popularizers of science have helped to fuel the enthusiasm for considering space exploration as a means of species survival. Carl Sagan wrote that “every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring—not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive.…The more of us beyond the Earth, the greater the diversity of worlds we inhabit…the safer the human species will be.”108 Stephen Hawking spoke in 2013 about the need for humanity to populate itself beyond Earth to survive: “We must continue to go into space for humanity. If you understand how the universe operates, you control it in a way. We won’t survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet.”109 Although a viable off-Earth settlement would by its very existence increase the odds of long-term human survival, it is not currently known whether an independently surviving space settlement could be developed. There are many technical challenges along the path from current capabilities to such a development, so this rationale speaks to a far-future aspirational goal. However, any progress in addressing the challenges requires a continuing human spaceflight program.

It is not possible to say whether human off-Earth settlements could eventually be developed that would outlive human presence on Earth and lengthen the survival of our species. That question can be answered only by pushing the human frontier in space.

2.4.7 Shared Human Destiny and Aspiration

That space exploration is a shared human aspiration and an aspect of human destiny is a broad rationale for its pursuit that has been espoused by practitioners in fields as diverse as science fiction and international policy. The rationale can be defined as the conviction that human space exploration is transpersonal in nature and that space is a frontier for humanity’s collective aspiration.110 In this context, human spaceflight aims to study humanity’s future—to dare discover how far humans can go and to investigate what they have a chance to become. From

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105 In listing these concerns, the committee is recognizing—not endorsing—the link in popular media between each of them and the question of human expansion beyond Earth.

106 N. Tyson, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, W.W. Norton, New York, 2012.

107 Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation, 2009.

108 C. Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, Random House, New York, 1994, p. 371.

109Reuters, Hawking: Mankind has 1,000 years to escape Earth, 2013, http://rt.com/news/earth-hawking-mankind-escape-702/.

110 Nikki Griffin, “A science officer speaks—An interview with JPL Flight Director Bobak Ferdowsi,” Geek Exchange, May 28, 21013, http://www.geekexchange.com/a-science-officer-speaks-an-interview-with-jpl-flight-director-bobak-ferdowsi-62643.html.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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space stations and starships to planetary outposts and terraforming, human imagination acts as a forecaster of a potential future to be reached only via continued development of humankind’s capabilities for human spaceflight.

Most countries do not have human spaceflight capabilities, and many countries cannot afford to contribute to human spaceflight systems. In 50 years of human spaceflight, only a few more than 500 people have ever been in space, and yet human spaceflight has become part of the world’s culture. A sense of shared human destiny and common aspiration does not necessarily depend on wider accessibility (although that is a large part of it). In this sense, the world relies on countries and organizations that have human spaceflight capabilities to adopt an inclusive approach to partnering in service of this goal. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is deeply rooted in this rationale:

Recognizing the common interest of all mankind in the progress of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes, Believing that the exploration and use of outer space should be carried on for the benefit of all peoples irrespective of the degree of their economic or scientific development,…The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.111

In 1958, President Eisenhower wrote a preface to a White House pamphlet titled “Introduction to Outer Space,”112 in which he stated that “we and other nations have a great responsibility to promote the peaceful use of space and to utilize the new knowledge obtainable from space science and technology for the benefit of all mankind.” Although that statement applied to space programs in general, not specifically to human spaceflight, the pamphlet is said to have directly influenced Star Trek,113 which, beginning in the 1960s, became a franchise of such longevity that it is now solidly embedded in popular American culture. Many space scientists, space enthusiasts, and the general public often cite aspects of the Star Trek franchise as their aspirational vision of the kind of future that should be pursued through human spaceflight.114

Since its inception, human spaceflight has been a planetwide experience, thanks in part to satellites. In the 1960s, television was the prevailing technology that offered millions of people the opportunity to connect with one another around a collective experience. Neil Armstrong’s words from the 1969 Moon landing were beamed around the world and garnered an estimated 530 million viewers worldwide—more than two-and-a-half times the population of the United States at that time (see Figure 2.4.). Today, the Internet is the dominant force connecting more than 2 billion people via an array of Web sites and apps. In 2013, Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut stationed on the ISS, gained more than 18 million views of a single YouTube video and maintains 1 million followers on Twitter. In July 2013, Hadfield visited Twitter’s headquarters, an office known for its frequent celebrity visitors, and was said to have brought together a larger audience of Twitter employees than any previous celebrity visitor.115

Human spaceflight is seen as forging a sense of common destiny. “Shared human destiny” and aspiration constitute a world view that humans are all in this—life, the universe, and everything—together and thus should endeavor to explore new frontiers collectively even if vicariously through the experiences of others. Notably, this rationale is distinguished from survival as a rationale; in this view, collective exploration as part of an intrinsic human experience is separate from and independent of the question of survival.

2.4.7.1 Evaluation of Human Destiny and Aspiration Rationales

Aspirational goals are by nature subjective and therefore unconvincing to those who do not share them. For those who do, however, they typically are strongly held.

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111 United Nations, “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,” known as the “Outer Space Treaty of 1967,” entered into force October 10, 1967, available at http://www.state.gov/www/global/arms/treaties/space1.html.

112 President’s Science Advisory Committee, “Introduction to Outer Space,” March 26, 1958, pp. 1-2, 6, 13-15, http://history.nasa.gov/sputnik/16.html.

113 The well-known television series in which humans explore on a galactic scale.

114 D. Day, “Star Trek as a Cultural Phenomenon,” Essay, History of Flight, U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, http://www.aahs-online.org/centennialofflight.net/essay/Social/star_trek/SH7.htm, accessed January 6, 2014.

115 @mattknox, Twitter, July 26, 2013, https://twitter.com/mattknox/status/360897639409143808.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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images

FIGURE 2.4 Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Apollo 11 mission commander, on the first extravehicular activity on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., took the photograph. SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA. This is a cropped photograph of the original, NASA photograph AS11-40-5886, http://grin.hq.nasa.gov/ABSTRACTS/GPN-2000-001209.html.

Some say that the drive to explore is a fundamental part of what makes us human.116 In that view, space is a frontier, and the primary rationale for spaceflight is that it is human destiny to explore this frontier as we have explored so many others. Robotic exploration plays a role, but only human spaceflight tackles the enduring questions of how far we can go and what we can discover and do when we get there in that the “we” in these questions specifically means humans rather than their robotic agents. Human spaceflight is an expensive and risky undertaking, and in the judgment of many on this committee only high aspirations such as this can justify taking such risks. Furthermore, this goal and the similarly aspirational goal of human survival are the only goals given as rationales that absolutely require human spaceflight to be reached. For all others, the desired outcome can be supported in multiple ways, human spaceflight among them.

The urge to explore and to reach challenging goals is a common human characteristic. Space is today a major physical frontier for such exploration and aspiration. Some say that it is human destiny to

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116 David Dobbs, Restless genes, National Geographic Magazine, January 2013, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/01/125-restlessgenes/dobbs-text.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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continue to explore space. While not all share this view, for those who do it is an important reason to engage in human spaceflight.

2.5 ASSESSMENT OF RATIONALES

All of the rationales described above are widely stated by and often represent deeply held convictions of individuals who have professional or avocational connections to space and members of the public. However, the effect of human spaceflight in supporting the domains discussed in previous sections is, in almost every case, difficult to quantify. It should be remembered that lack of validated measurements does not mean that the effects are not real; rather, in many cases the committee can neither provide strong corroborating evidence of effects nor measure their magnitude. For all the pragmatic rationales, the goals could be served by a variety of federal expenditures in addition to (or instead of) expenditures on human spaceflight. However, the lack of quantification applies as well to these alternative investments and thus the committee cannot determine the relative efficacy of investment in the various programs. The aspirational rationales (the last two discussed in the previous section) require human spaceflight if they are to be attained.

Each of the traditional rationales provides some support for continued engagement in human spaceflight. No one of them alone provides an argument that is compelling to all who hear it, and different audiences stress different rationales, as is seen in the inputs from interested audiences discussed at the beginning of this chapter and in the data in Chapter 3 from public surveys and from a stakeholder survey conducted by this committee. Many of the rationales for human spaceflight that are discussed above are not unique to this activity but form much of the justification for other federal programs ranging from the National Institutes of Health to DOD.117 In other words, many of the rationales for spaceflight discussed above are most appropriately considered in a comparative context in which one tries to assess the effectiveness of an array of federal programs in achieving the goals incorporated in a given rationale. Unfortunately, there are no well-developed analytic methodologies for such assessments.

The fact that no one of these rationales alone provides the key to why the nation should support human spaceflight does not mean that collectively they are not strong. Different individuals may give more weight to one than to another, but few oppose human spaceflight in principle. In these times of tight budgets, many may suggest other expenditures that they favor more strongly. At the same time, few citizens have a clear perspective on the actual budget for human spaceflight, and many take the visibility of NASA programs to mean that the expenditures are much higher than they actually are. As Chapter 3 discusses, such responses depend on the information provided and how the question is asked.

No single rationale seems to justify the value of pursuing human spaceflight.

2.6 VALUE PROPOSITIONS

2.6.1 The Problem with Value Propositions

“However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

—William Bruce Cameron118

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117 As John Marburger pointed out in a 2006 speech to the Goddard Memorial Symposium, delivered in his capacity as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the 2005 NASA Authorization Act “affirms that ‘the fundamental goal of this vision is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program.’…The wording of this policy phrase is significant. It subordinates space exploration to the primary goals of scientific, security, and economic interests. Stated this way, the ‘fundamental goal’ identifies the benefits against which the costs of exploration can be weighed. This is extremely important for policy making because science, security, and economic dimensions are shared by other federally funded activities. By linking costs to these common benefits it becomes possible, at least in principle, to weigh investments in space exploration against competing opportunities to achieve benefits of the same type” (John Marburger, Keynote Address, 44th Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium, Greenbelt, Maryland, March 15, 2006, http://www.nss.org/resources/library/spacepolicy/marburger1.html).

118 W.B. Cameron, Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking, Random House, New York, 1963 (5th printing, 1967), p. 13.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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A value proposition is a statement of the benefits or experiences being delivered by an organization to recipients, together with the price or description of the resources expended for them. From an economic perspective, something is considered to be of value when the worth or benefits of the experience, product, service, or program exceed the costs or resources set forth to obtain it.119 In a business context, value can be expressed as a ratio of financial benefits to expenditures associated with a given activity or set of activities: a ratio greater than 1.0 denotes positive value. In public administration and policy, however, that ratio is only one of the metrics that address worth.120

The value-proposition approach to the assessment of public programs is rooted in large part in the widely remarked differences between private- and public-sector organizations in objectives and in the feasibility of measuring outcomes—there is no obvious “bottom line” for most public programs, which by definition are conducted as not-for-profit activities. The value-proposition framework championed by Moore (1995, 2013)121 argues that public programs should be evaluated in terms of their ability to achieve a broad set of objectives (in Moore’s terms, values) in addition to the efficiency with which the objectives are accomplished. The effectiveness of public programs in achieving their broader set of objectives forms the core of value-proposition analysis as applied to public-sector activities. But it is a reflection of the complex environment within which such programs operate that it is difficult to measure objectives, measure progress toward them, and aggregate the various measures of outcomes and progress into any single equivalent to the “bottom-line” measure of profit or loss that figures prominently in private-sector management.

As outlined by Moore (2013), the value-proposition framework lacks any basis for assessing the interdependence among different elements of a given proposition, and this can make it difficult to use as a management or evaluation tool. Management in both the public and private sectors involves establishing priorities and managing tradeoffs among the priorities within a constrained resource environment. Using a value-proposition framework for managing any public program requires an understanding of the extent to which pursuing one objective (or element of the value proposition) affects progress toward others. This need for understanding tradeoffs also applies to program outcomes because the value-proposition framework recommends that managers recognize the priorities assigned by public opinion or by the opinion of key stakeholder groups to different aspects of program outcomes. Here, too, establishing a basis for making tradeoffs is complex and may be even more difficult with a program like NASA human spaceflight, for which mass public opinion reveals broad but lukewarm support (see Chapter 3), with little guidance as to what objectives are valued especially highly.

The emphasis on stakeholder value in governance and management predates Moore and is widely attributed to R.E. Freeman’s Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach,122 which focused more intensively on private-sector management. Theoretical and empirical work spawned by Freeman’s arguments centered on understanding stakeholders, value management, and value delivery and on the ability of an organization to generate, communicate, and transfer value to stakeholders. Like Moore’s management approach to value propositions, stakeholder theory is difficult to apply to large government programs in part because different stakeholder groups or individuals may assign different weights to multiple factors that are distributed across the enterprise in assessing value.123,124 No

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119 L. Phillips, Managing customer value when your program’s survival depends on it, Paper # AIAA 2007-9928 in Proceedings of AIAA Space 2007, September 18-20, Long Beach, Calif., AIAA, Washington, D.C., 2007.

120 M. Cole and G. Parston, Unlocking Public Value, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, N.J., 2006, pp. 43-49.

121 M.H. Moore, Creating Public Value (Harvard UP, 1995); M.H. Moore, Recognizing Public Value (Harvard UP, 2013). Moore defines a “public value proposition” as follows: “To seek political consensus for the values that they think they ought to be accountable for producing, public managers need to make some kind of public value proposition—a list of the values that would show up on the right-hand side [associated with revenues in a private-sector accounting scheme] of the public value account.…A public value proposition might equally fail if it did not connect or resonate with all, or most, or the most important of those in a position to call the agency to account, exposing a public manager to indifference, or angry criticism for neglecting cherished values. Even a public value account conscientiously and meticulously constructed through intensive negotiations with elected overseers and ‘market testing’ with the wider public can unravel when those who seemed to agree change their mind” (p. 91).

122 R.E. Freeman, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, Pitman Publishing, Boston, Mass., 2010.

123 B.G. Cameron, E.F. Crawley, G. Loureiro, and E.S. Rebentisch, Value flow mapping: Using networks to inform stakeholder analysis, Acta Astronautica 62:324-333, 2008.

124 W.K. Hofstetter, “The MIT-Draper CE&R Study: Methodologies and Tools,” 2008, http://nia-cms.nianet.org/getattachment/resources/Education/Continuining-Education/Seminars-and-Colloquia/Seminars-2008/CER_NIA_Talk-8-September-2008-final.pdf.aspx, p. 10.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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methodological consensus has emerged in stakeholder analysis. However, several recent studies have included value mapping to stakeholder needs or “stakeholder value analysis” with the goal of providing guidance to the designers of NASA programs or components of programs, although it is unclear that the designers incorporated the results of these analyses into the programs or components. The majority of these studies have been led by the Systems Architecture group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

A joint project between Draper Laboratories and the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics was conducted in 2004-2005 in support of NASA’s Project Constellation Concept Exploration and Refinement contract. The study aimed to develop and refine approaches to human lunar exploration by using stakeholder value analysis to determine program and system objectives. However, the overall inquiry at MIT was aimed at answering a larger question related to the goals of a value-proposition analysis described above: How can we architect a public enterprise that must accommodate numerous (possibly conflicting) views and ideas about how it should achieve its defined mission?125

The study began by categorizing NASA’s space-exploration constituents into five stakeholder interest groups: exploration, science, economic and commercial efforts, security, and the public. Identification of stakeholder needs, necessary to bound the “value” that might be delivered by exploration programs, was derived from secondary data sources, such as public opinion polls and government reports. These needs were mapped to high-level exploration program objectives provided by NASA. The objectives were then “traded” vis-à-vis candidate exploration mission architectures so that the researchers could obtain relative rankings of architectures that would satisfy stakeholder needs. The rankings coalesced on four dimensions that were believed to contribute to program sustainability: value delivery, policy robustness, risk, and affordability. Those in turn had implications for the development of systems that might be used both to advance Constellation program objectives and to satisfy stakeholder needs.

Relying as it did on indirect measures and researcher rankings, the effort is best described as an early exercise of a developing methodology for stakeholder value analysis rather than as an analysis itself. The authors acknowledged the experimental nature of their work and pointed out several methodological challenges, many of which have continued to plague other models of stakeholder value. First, weighting and setting priorities among program objectives require characterization of the relationship between the organization (NASA) and its stakeholders, including their ability to influence NASA’s space-exploration architecture. That in turn requires an empirical method for assessing stakeholder importance or priority, because stakeholders are not “created equal” with regard to their demands on or influence over any organization. Such issues of stakeholder priority were not addressed in the analysis.

A second challenge lies in the assessment of the relationship between stakeholders and the program objectives that are designed to satisfy them. To assess the strength of the relationship, the research team simply rated the relationship on an ordinal scale across several dimensions. An average of all stakeholder scores was then used to provide an overall weight or preference for meeting individual objectives. This approach is indirect, is subjective, requires external validation, and ignores the issue of stakeholder priority described above.

A final challenge pertains to the metrics of stakeholder value, which are at a higher level than those metrics required for engineering design and mission architecture development. The research team attempted to develop “proximate” or intermediate measures that represented steps along a path to delivery of systems that would satisfy both stakeholder needs and program sustainability requirements. However, the measures imposed an additional layer of subjective interpretation of the relationship between stakeholder needs and system design and introduced more noise into the model while suffering from a lack of external or engineering validation and other weaknesses.126 The authors pointed to the need for additional research.

A later effort to evolve and simplify the entire approach came in 2008 and also focused on NASA programs, specifically the Vision for Space Exploration. Using the answers to a single question—Who are the stakeholders of the space exploration “system of systems” to whom benefit might flow?—the researchers identified nine stakeholder groups: science, security, international partners, economic, executive and Congress, the U.S. public,

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125 E.S. Rebentisch, E.F. Crawley, G. Loureiro, J.Q. Dickmann, and S.N. Catanzaro, “Using Stakeholder Value Analysis to Build Exploration Sustainability,” paper presented at the AIAA 1st Space Exploration Conference, January 30-February 1, Orlando, Fla., AIAA-2553, 2005, p. 3.

126 E.S. Rebentisch et al., “Using Stakeholder Value Analysis to Build Exploration Sustainability,” 2005.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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educators, mass media, and NASA itself. The researchers then identified stakeholder needs by using input and output queries. The input query—Which inputs are required by the stakeholders?—addressed specific stakeholder needs; for example, scientists require science data, and commercial launch providers require customers. The output query was asked about NASA: What are the outputs of the value-creating organization, and who are they provided to? This process generated a total of 48 distinct needs, which were recorded in input-output diagrams centered on each stakeholder and on NASA. These were analyzed further to determine which stakeholders had which effects on others or on NASA. The researchers then connected the inputs and outputs of various stakeholders to each other. Repeated iterations created a “value network” made up of value flows and loops that represented the connection of the output of one stakeholder group to that of another or the provision of value from one stakeholder to another. The ones that explained observable behaviors—for example, “NASA provides launch contracts to the economic community, which provides launch services to the security community, which could provide support for NASA to the executive for NASA funding”—were grouped into six categories representing the following value domains: policy, money, workforce, technology, knowledge, and goods and services. “Inspiration” and “commercial launch” were added after further refinement.

This method generated interactions of stakeholder needs that the researchers described as “common, synergistic, conflicting, or orthogonal.” Common needs are ones that are shared among stakeholder groups. Needs are synergistic when the satisfaction of one need results in satisfaction of another need; for example, launching of a spacecraft could satisfy the economic community’s need for contracts and the science community’s need for data. Conflicting needs often represent external constraints, such as a tension between “gather science data” and “test new technology in space” with fixed funding. Orthogonal needs are independent of other needs.

The researchers described the resulting modeled value-delivery network between stakeholders and NASA as complex, indirect, interactive, and sometimes fragile. The authors offered recommendations about how to architect organizations so that they would be aligned with the creation, communication, and delivery of value to stakeholders. The most important of the recommendations echoes both Freeman and Moore while providing little insight into how to achieve the desired outcome:

Organizations should be aligned to deliver value—that is to say, the valued outputs created by the organization should be clearly traceable to responsibilities, processes, and incentives within the organization. Recognizing that these outputs constitute the totality of the organization’s impact on its environment highlights their importance. Given that these are the products by which an organization will be judged, responsibilities should be clearly delineated and monitored over time.

That conclusion was echoed in 2009 by the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee in its report Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation.127 To fulfill its charge to conduct an independent review of current U.S. human spaceflight plans, that committee developed evaluation criteria for equitable assessment of all the programmatic alternatives under consideration. The criteria clustered around three major dimensions, one of which rested on a value-proposition assessment and sought to characterize benefits of various exploration pathways and program options to stakeholders. Some of the benefits identified by that committee for various exploration destinations are presented in Figure 2.5. Many of the destinations are included in the exploration pathways assessed in Chapter 4.

The Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee developed a list of stakeholder groups on the basis of previous research, a review of relevant policy documents, and public opinion polls. Stakeholders for NASA human spaceflight programs included “the U.S. government, the American public; the scientific and education communities; the industrial base and commercial business interests; and human civilization as a whole.”128 Benefits delivered to stakeholders were “the capability for exploration; the opportunity for technology innovation; the opportunity to increase scientific knowledge; the opportunity to expand U.S. prosperity and economic competitiveness; the opportunity to enhance global partnership; and the potential to increase the engagement of the public in human

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127 Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation, 2009.

128 Ibid, p. 77.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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images

FIGURE 2.5 Benefits of various destinations along the Flexible Path. SOURCE: Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, 2009, Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation, p. 41, http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/396093main_HSF_Cmte_FinalReport.pdf.

spaceflight.”129 The stakeholders and benefits accruing to them as a result of each option were considered along with “risk” and “budget realities” as the three major dimensions driving evaluation of program options. No formal value propositions or stakeholder analysis were presented at the conclusion of the study.130

In the following year, the MIT team elaborated on its 2008 work: it conducted a quantitative analysis of NASA’s space-exploration stakeholder network on the basis of the secondary data sources used in earlier papers. The analysis suggested that the activities of highest stakeholder value in future space-exploration programs would be ones that yielded an opportunity for science returns and opportunities for the public to be virtually present during mission operations by means of the Internet during exploration activities conducted under NASA’s Constellation program.131,132 In 2012, MIT’s value network analytic method was applied to data obtained directly from representative stakeholders of the NASA-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Earth Observation Program by means of questionnaires. The value flows and stakeholder priority-setting from that analysis were

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129 Ibid.

130 Additional benefits related to innovation, inspiration, and new means of addressing global challenges are described in a publication of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, Benefits Stemming from Space Exploration, 2013, http://www.globalspaceexploration.org/wordpress/.

131 The Constellation program was canceled in 2010.

132 B.G. Cameron, T. Seher, and E.F. Crawley, Goals for space exploration based on stakeholder network value considerations, Acta Astronautica 68:2088-2097, 2011.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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validated by means of comparison and assessment with other external stakeholders and proxy data sources, such as public opinion polls and literature reviews. The results included recommendations to NASA and NOAA that the Earth Observation program set priorities among its objectives in such a way as to maximize product delivery to scientists, international partners, commercial companies, and the public.133 No information on whether any of the recommendations have been implemented or to what effect is available.

A final example of a value-proposition analysis of programs related to NASA activities is a 2012 study for the National Geospatial Advisory Committee, The Value Proposition for Ten Landsat Applications.134 The study calculated the “productivity savings” associated with 10 applications of the Landsat technology by examining 10 “decision processes that would be significantly more expensive without an operational Landsat-like program. Many of these processes are associated with the U.S. government and save significant amounts of money compared to other methods of accomplishing the same objective” (2012, p. 1). Despite the study’s title, which implied a value-proposition analysis, it focused exclusively on the financial savings associated with Landsat applications as varied as monitoring of coastal change and fire management. The study’s methodology and estimates seem credible although the assessment provided no estimates of the costs associated with achieving the savings; in essence, the study used a cost-benefit framework that focused exclusively on benefits. Nor did the study consider the costs or potential efficiency gains associated with alternative monitoring technologies or related public investment.

Most important, however, the value-proposition analysis did not present an integrated assessment of multiple objectives and other features of the Landsat program, so it seems to have represented a narrow approach to value-proposition analysis in comparison with, for example, Moore’s 2013 discussion of Commissioner Bratton and the New York City Police Department. Similarly, the evolving methodology of the MIT stakeholder value-network analysis, the efforts of the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, and the efforts of other researchers related to development and integration of large-scale systems in government programs have focused on providing inputs about stakeholder value to systems engineering and program design. These methods have as their goal the development of program objectives for guiding design decisions that can then be translated into value propositions to be delivered to stakeholders by the originating organization.135,136 Although that represents a multiuser, multiobjective approach that is an improvement on the Landsat effort, it does not provide for definition of the wider range of outcome-related objectives, value delivery, and generation of sustainable stakeholder support for agency missions and leadership.

When applied to NASA human spaceflight, the value-proposition framework that the present committee has developed begins with the set of rationales discussed above, which highlight an array of hypothesized desirable effects of NASA human spaceflight (innovation and economic return, U.S. national security, national stature and international relations, and inspiration of younger citizens to pursue STEM study), all of which might be used to define a set of outcome objectives or “values” for a NASA human spaceflight value proposition. As in most public programs, however, measuring such effects is difficult. Moreover, the effects of NASA human spaceflight on such outcomes as innovation may be even more difficult to measure than those of many other public-sector programs because of the long lags in realizing innovation-related effects.

Beyond measuring those effects, attributing changes in such outcomes as public inspiration, innovative performance, or U.S. national security and prestige to NASA human spaceflight programs is especially difficult. Other rationales discussed above—such as supporting the establishment of human habitation on other planets, the enhanced exploration capabilities associated with space missions that involve astronauts as well as robotic equipment, and the link between space exploration and human destiny—represent motivations for human spaceflight that arguably are unique to NASA. But even defining those rationales (let alone assessing the success of current and planned NASA missions to achieve objectives associated with them) or the tradeoffs among them in terms of

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133 T.A. Sutherland, B.G. Cameron, E.F. Crawley, Program goals for the NASA/NOAA Earth Observation Program derived from a stakeholder value network analysis, Space Policy 28:259-269, 2012.

134 National Geospatial Advisory Committee, Landsat Advisory Group, “The Value Proposition for 10 Landsat Applications,” 2012, http://www.fgdc.gov/ngac/meetings/september-2012/ngac-landsat-economic-value-paper-FINAL.pdf.

135 T.A. Sutherland et al., Program goals for the NASA/NOAA Earth Observation Program derived from a stakeholder value network analysis, 2012.

136 J.M. Brooks, J.S. Carroll, and J.W. Beard, Dueling stakeholders and dual-hatted systems engineers: Engineering challenges, capabilities, and skills in government infrastructure technology projects, IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management 58(3):589-601, 2011.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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mission priorities or public opinion is extremely difficult, not least because they require decades, or centuries as in the case of permanent off-Earth habitats, to be realized.

Many or most of the challenges of developing and applying value-proposition analysis at the agency level are not unique to NASA. Indeed, the challenges may help to explain the absence of any value-proposition analysis of other federal science and technology programs. None of the various NRC studies of the analysis of federal R&D programs has attempted to develop a value-proposition analysis of these programs, nor does the 2001 National Science Board study of federal R&D programs or the 1991 congressional Office of Technology Assessment study include such an analysis.137 The present committee sought unsuccessfully to find examples of other publicly available value-proposition analyses of NASA programs, as well as examples of the use of this framework by senior NASA administrators in public statements or by congressional appropriators in decision-making on NASA budgets.

2.6.2 Stakeholder Value and the Impacts of Ending Human Spaceflight

For the reasons described above, a rigorous analysis of the value propositions for NASA human spaceflight at the national level is beyond the capacity of this report—possibly of any report. An alternative way to examine the value proposition of NASA human spaceflight is to consider the effects on various stakeholder groups if the program is terminated. The Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee (2010) characterized benefits of various exploration programs and pathway options to stakeholders in terms of opportunities and potential for value creation, and discovery. A unique perspective on the value proposition for NASA human spaceflight asks, What would happen—and to whom—if those opportunities and potential were no longer available?

NASA human spaceflight stakeholder groups that might benefit from human space exploration have been defined in the statement of task for this committee, which calls for a description of value that takes into account “the needs of government, industry, the economy, and the public good—and in the context of the priorities and programs of current and potential international partners in the spaceflight program.” In terms of the rationales discussed above, one can divide government and public-good rationales into distinct interests of different stakeholder groups, namely, national security, international relations, science, and education and inspiration as well as the general public interest. The committee notes that a fully responsive answer to this request would require a value-proposition analysis that goes well beyond any known methodology and applies the concept of value propositions to the human spaceflight enterprise as a whole rather than to individual program designs as described above. What follows is an effort to address the task statement by focusing on losses that would stem from human spaceflight termination and the resulting effect on some stakeholder groups. It should be noted clearly that the committee is not recommending termination. Thinking about that eventuality is merely another way to recognize what is valued about the program from various perspectives. Any potential benefit to any of the stakeholder groups, as previously covered in this chapter’s discussion of rationales, will be lost if the program is terminated. To avoid duplication, this section does not restate each of them here; rather, this dicussion highlights where the lens of “what would be lost” adds a perspective that was not captured in the discussion of rationales above.

In a theoretical sense, one should consider that some of the possible losses that would result from termination of the exploration program may be interrelated. The methodology used to evaluate rationales in this report was necessarily unitary; that is, each rationale was considered separately from the others. An alternative view is that

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137 See the NRC reports (published by The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.) Measuring the Impacts of Federal Investments in Research (2011), Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology (1995), Evaluating Federal Research Programs (1999), A Strategy for Assessing Science (2007); and National Science Board, Federal Research Resources: A Process for Setting Priorities (USGPO, Washington, D.C., 2001); U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Federally Funded Research: Decisions for a Decade (USGPO, Washington, D.C., 1991). It is important to note that these studies do not agree on any alternative analytic framework for evaluating the effects of federal R&D investments, for reasons stated in the National Science Board report: “In many ways, federal research presents greater problems for measurement and benchmarking than does private R&D. A great deal of federally funded research is directed to areas where the market is limited at best. Further, given the types of data available, the returns that result from most calculations must be interpreted as average rather than marginal rates. From a policy perspective, this means that we cannot be certain from this aggregate analysis what the effect of an additional dollar of research expenditure might be. The cost/benefit framework itself may be too restrictive, failing to capture the many benefits that may be derived from publicly-funded basic research. The true effect of such outlays may well be indirect, affecting productivity through changing the returns to private research and development rather than directly as a result of the specific research project” (pp. 78-79).

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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some of the benefits associated with various rationales are related to each other and that the value flow described by the relationships is irreducible. In the language of the MIT studies, this means that breaking one “value loop” in the network of value delivery may have downstream or corollary effects that are impossible to capture in a discussion of losses to and effects on individual stakeholder groups. Moreover, a loss of opportunity to create value—usually referred to as opportunity cost—is particularly difficult to address because the nature of the value to be created in the future may not be foreseeable.138

This observation is bolstered by the presence of a temporal element in the committee’s deliberations: We face a future that is unpredictable. In an enterprise like human space exploration, which has a decades-long horizon, loss of value or loss of the opportunity to create value may have a greater effect in the future than current assessments indicate. For human spaceflight to progress, continuing research on risk reduction is necessary—including development of new environmental systems and new launch and transportation technologies, all of which are long-lead items—if technology is to be available at appropriate phases of exploration. Such development is expensive and creates opportunities for pushing the envelope in science, engineering, and operations—with benefits not always identifiable in advance but that would not otherwise be pursued if the program ends.139

In examining the possible costs of termination of the exploration program, one must consider the timelines and eventual future of the program for LEO human spaceflight separately from those for beyond-Earth exploration. Termination of one does not imply termination of the other, and each is different from the others; this illustrates the complexity of the issues under consideration. In the discussion that follows, that issue is considered from three perspectives, each of which addresses one or more of the stakeholder groups that the committee was asked to consider:

  • Termination of all human spaceflight activities (LEO and beyond LEO)—whenever such termination might occur—is considered with regard to potential effects on the government (national security and international relations) and on the public (national pride and identity).
  • Termination of NASA human spaceflight in LEO is considered with regard to science, economics (commerce), and industry.
  • Termination of beyond-LEO exploration is discussed with emphasis on international partnerships and with regard to the enduring questions.

2.6.2.1 Ending LEO and Beyond-LEO Human Spaceflight: Effects on the Public Good and the National Interest

As described in the earlier discussion of rationales, human spaceflight has contributed to national pride and stature. As difficult as it is to characterize other benefits of human spaceflight, the cultural “value” of human spaceflight and its role in national pride and identity are even more difficult to assess. National identity has been defined as “the cohesive force that holds nation states together and shapes their relationships with the family of nations” and national pride as “the positive effect that the public feels toward their country as a result of their national identity…both the pride or sense of esteem that a person has for one’s nation and the pride or self-esteem that a person drives from one’s national identity.”140

Collective experience is represented in and reinforced by national pride and can be reflected in symbols of national experience or achievement with which national pride is strongly correlated.141 A strong indicator of national pride as reflected in the public’s connection to NASA’s human spaceflight program surfaced after ter

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138 The discussion in this section of losses in the absence of human spaceflight and the resulting implications for stakeholders has broad similarity to regret theory, which rests on the assumption that under conditions of uncertainty people facing a choice may anticipate regret of their decision. In such cases, a desire to avoid regret may be taken into account in the decision-making process. See G. Loomes and R. Sugden, Regret theory: An alternative theory of rational choice under uncertainty, The Economic Journal 92:805-824, 1982.

139 J. Johnson-Freese, Space as a Strategic Asset, 2007, p. 54.

140 T.W. Smith and S. Kim, National pride in cross-national and temporal perspective, International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 18:127-136, 2006.

141 T.W. Smith, K.A. Rasinski, and M. Toce, American Rebounds: A National Study of Public Response to the September 11th Terrorist Attacks, NORC Report, University of Chicago, Ill., 2001.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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mination of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011. As described in Chapter 3, public opinion polls done at the time showed that Americans responded to the losses of Challenger and Columbia and their crews with increased support for NASA’s human spaceflight program. That could be attributed to a collective response to tragedy, but as space shuttles were flown to museums beginning in 2012, thousands of people left businesses and homes and got out of their cars, stopping traffic on freeways to watch the space shuttles as they circled Washington, DC, New York, and San Francisco.142,143 Press reports noted that “hundreds of thousands” lined streets in Los Angeles as Endeavor was towed to the California Science Museum preparation site.144

National pride is linked to achievements in cultural, nonpolitical activities, including achievements in science and technology.145 Marketing firms and political campaigns have long made use of symbols that evoke national pride to “brand” products, services, or candidates. Marketing campaigns reflect investment of capital for the purposes of generating revenue. A high recognition value across a number of demographic segments denotes the “branding power” of the icons. The frequent use of icons that have substantial power reflects marketing campaign managers’ belief that their products or services will be viewed as attractive as a result of association with the icons.

An indirect indicator of the pervasiveness of NASA human spaceflight in American culture may be found in the use of NASA human spaceflight “brand icons” in advertising campaigns. The extravehicular-activity “spacesuit”—a direct reference to the human in human spaceflight—is used regularly in national marketing campaigns.146 In 2013, spacesuit use by major brands surfaced in advertisements for personal fragrances (Unilever) and automobiles (Kia), as well as for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.147,148,149

Those glimpses of persistent connection with and awareness of NASA’s human spaceflight program raise a difficult question: What is the actual value of NASA human spaceflight in the national self-image? The committee has heard that the answer may be deeply ingrained in American identity and is a source of national pride, and this is consistent with previous research.150,151,152 In addition, the stakeholder survey conducted for this study found that “U.S. prestige”—a concept linked to national pride and identity—was expected to suffer the greatest loss if human spaceflight activities in LEO and beyond LEO were terminated (see Table 3.12). Such a loss could be greatest for future generations.

NASA human spaceflight’s direct contributions to national security are limited; however, indirect contributions to national security interests have benefit for the government. Indirect evidence of the potential effect of the loss of the NASA human spaceflight workforce on the defense industrial base may be found in a stakeholder survey of 536 companies commissioned by NASA and conducted by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security Office of Technology Evaluation in 2012. The study examined the effect of space-shuttle and Constellation termination on the NASA industrial base and on other U.S. government customers. Eighty-six suppliers reported that their customers would be affected in some way, primarily through loss of experienced

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142 Brian Vastag, “NASA’s Discovery Shuttle Wows Washington in 45-Minute Flyover,” Washington Post, April 17, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/space-shuttle-discovery-wows-washington-in-45-minute-flyover/2012/04/17/gIQAKkgFOT_story.html.

143 CBS San Francisco Bay Area, “Huge Bay Area Crowds Await Shuttle Endeavour,” September 21, 2012, http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2012/09/21/huge-bay-area-crowds-await-shuttle-endeavour/.

144 CNN Wire Staff, Space shuttle Endeavour rolls into new home as crowds cheer, CNN.com, October 15, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/14/us/shuttle-endeavour/.

145 T.W. Smith and L. Jarkko, National Pride: A Cross-National Analysis, NORC Report, University of Chicago, 1998, http://publicdata.norc.org:41000/gss/documents/CNRT/CNR19%20National%20Pride%20-%20A%20cross-national%20analysis.pdf.

146 Amanda Wills, “Inside the Spacesuit: 10 Rare Views of a NASA Icon,” Mashable.com, August 20, 2013, http://mashable.com/2013/08/20/nasa-spacesuit-smithsonian/.

147 Andrew Adam Newman, Launching a fragrance line (in a manner of speaking), New York Times, January 10, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/11/business/media/for-axes-apollo-line-a-campaign-found-in-space.html?_r=0.

148 Jonathan Brown, “This Super Bowl Kia Commercial Positions Babies as Astronauts,” Trendhunter.com, January 30, 2013, http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/super-bowl-kia-commercial.

149 The Make-A-Wish Foundation public service announcement “Traveler” appeared, for example, in Central New York Business Journal, October 26, 2011, p. 12, http://issuu.com/thebusinessjournal/docs/commemorative_issue_flip/13.

150 Betty Sue Flowers, Panel Discussion, January 18, 2013.

151 Neil deGrasse Tyson, presentation to the committee, October 23, 2013.

152 Smith and Jarkko, National Pride, 1998.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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personnel, increased cost of equipment, potential loss of software and manufactured products, and reduction in R&D expenditures. Twenty-eight companies indicated that their business with the Missile Defense Agency would be affected, primarily in workforce and R&D. Twenty-seven companies indicated that business with the U.S. Air Force and Space and Missile Systems Center would experience cost increases and collateral effects on workforce and innovation.

The small number of suppliers affected were largely small and medium-size businesses and vulnerable to disruption.153 Previous research by the National Security Space Office, the Air Force, and the Department of Commerce indicated that most space-related R&D spending and innovation is done by companies in those categories.154 Erosion of the industrial base is a subject of concern for the Department of Defense, which perceives it as a threat to national security.155 Loss of NASA human spaceflight would probably have a small direct effect given the modest scope of prospective NASA procurement activities related to human spaceflight, but the effect is impossible to assess precisely.

NASA human spaceflight also has been used to promote U.S. geopolitical objectives and as a means of exercising soft power. Both from a geopolitical perspective and from the perspective of possible future commercial exploitation of space resources, that influence is an important element in the value proposition for human spaceflight. Once lost, this influence might not be readily recovered.

2.6.2.2 Ending LEO Human Spaceflight: Commercial and Scientific Effects

In examining the possible costs of termination of the exploration program, one must consider the timelines and eventual future of the program for LEO human spaceflight separately from that for beyond-Earth exploration. Currently, there is an agreement among all the international partners to operate the ISS until 2020. The U.S. administration has announced its intention to extend ISS operations until at least 2024; however, differing national objectives, funding profiles, and space policy make continuation of the ISS to that date with all the original partners less certain.156 Termination (and deorbit) of the ISS in 2020 will affect NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP), which is necessary for continued exploration. The role of the HRP is to “buy down risk” by identifying causal and mitigating factors related to the effects of the space environment on human behavior, performance, and health. Research programs do not generate results on a prescribed timeline, so NASA has identified a set of high-priority risks, including radiation, bone and muscle loss, increased intracranial pressure, and other physiological and psychological responses to the space environment. The studies addressing those issues require sufficient time to unfold to make it possible to characterize risk and determine which of them may create the most important effects on human beings operating in the space environment—and whether and how such risks can be addressed. Although no one knows a date by which the HRP will be able to generate results that build confidence about risks and risk mitigation, termination of the ISS earlier will lead to a higher probability of lower confidence and poorer characterization of effects on human health and behavior than termination at a later date.

As discussed earlier, NASA’s LEO human spaceflight program has recently put into place new mechanisms for acquiring space transportation from commercial suppliers with fixed-price contracts. Small and medium-size suppliers and service providers are emerging to support the new transportation systems and prepare for anticipated growth in related economic activities in LEO over the next several decades. The new commercial space companies

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153 Department of Commerce (2012). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Human Space Flight Industrial Base in the Post-Space Shuttle/Constellation Environment (pp. 124-128).

154 2007 Defense Industrial Base report.

155 M. O’Hanlon, “The National Security Industrial Base: A Crucial Asset of the United States, Whose Future May Be in Jeopardy,” 21st Century Defense Initiative Policy Paper, Brookings Institute, Washington, D.C., 2012, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2011/2/defense%20ohanlon/02_defense_ohanlon.pdf.

156 A. Krasnov, “Perspectives on the Future of Human Spaceflight,” presentation and remarks to the Committee on Human Spaceflight, April 23, 2013.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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are offering diverse services, such as spaceflight training, spacesuit design, and vehicle mockups.157,158,159 In the near future, the companies will depend heavily on activities between Earth and LEO that are centered on utilization of the ISS.160 Termination of the ISS in 2020 would result in a relatively short period during which NASA would serve as the principal or only customer for the companies, resulting in a very limited opportunity for them to recoup their investment.161 Government funding outside NASA could be substituted in order to continue development of the systems should they be determined to be in the national interest (for example, to diversify the launch industry), but without the ISS as a driver for U.S. investment in this sector, it is unclear whether the competitive advantages and cost savings justify continuing investment on behalf of the country.162

At least one company is currently making use of the ISS as a launch platform for small commercial satellites, and others are exploring commercial R&D, commercial services, and product development pathways under the auspices of the ISS National Laboratory. Other commercial entities have plans in development for LEO, but at present these are still only plans. It should be noted that those possibilities rely on models for commercial market development in LEO that are early in development and speculative.163,164

Scientific benefits of the ISS were reviewed above. Terrestrial benefits from the ISS National Laboratory, if any, are probably some years away. Termination of the NASA LEO human spaceflight program by 2020 would cut short the R&D process that the ISS National Laboratory is counting on, and there would be a potential (and unknowable) associated loss of value to science and to commercial entities. Research programs conducted by the international partners would also be severely affected or terminated unless a new partner or partners could be found to make up the operational funding losses created by U.S. withdrawal.

Within a month of the present report’s going into NRC review, NASA and the Obama administration announced their intention to continue the U.S. commitment to the ISS until at least 2024. Under those circumstances, the effects of termination in 2020 discussed above would be reduced, and there would be additional time to generate returns from exploration science, the ISS National Laboratory, and commercial activities and operations. However, as discussed in Chapter 4, continuing to operate the ISS beyond 2020 in a flat-budget environment would undercut beyond-LEO activities. The potential value proposition of ISS-based science versus exploration beyond Earth orbit is discussed further in Chapter 4.

2.6.2.3 Ending Beyond-LEO Exploration: Partnerships and the Enduring Questions

The statement of task charges the committee to consider the value of the U.S. human spaceflight program for current and potential international partners. The committee has found that U.S. near-term goals for human exploration beyond LEO are not aligned with our international partners’ goals (see Chapter 1), which are focused on Mars (with the Moon as an intermediate goal). Regardless, the Global Exploration Roadmap developed by the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) is loosely organized around U.S. intentions and

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157 The National AeroSpace Training and Research Center (NASTAR), http://www.nastarcenter.com/about-us/etc-and-the-nastar-center, accessed December 21, 2013.

158 WayPoint2Space, at http://waypoint2space.com, accessed on December 21, 2013.

159 See “Space Suits,” “Space Mockups,” and “Space Diving” at Orbital Outfitters, “What We Do,” http://orbitaloutfitters.com/what-we-do/. Accessed December 21, 2013.

160 NASA, Commercial Market Assessment for Crew and Cargo Systems Pursuant to Section 403 of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, issued March 12, 2011, http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/Section403(b)CommercialMarketAssessmentReportFinal.pdf.

161 Recently, NASA and the White House announced their intention to continue the ISS until 2024, in part to enable commercial development in LEO to continue to mature, as well as to maximize science returns.

162 A recent study commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration and conducted by the Futron Corporation documented the competitive advantage of the United States in human-spaceflight markets (relative to other nations) as a result of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program. See G. Autry, L. Huang, and J. Foust, An Analysis of the Competitive Advantage of the United States of America in Commercial Human Orbital Spaceflight Markets, 2014, https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ast/media/US_HOM_compet_adv_analysis-Final_1-7.pdf.

163 See K. Davidian, I. Christensen, D. Kaiser, and J. Foust, “Disruptive Innovation Theory Applied to Cargo and Crew Space Transporation,” Paper # IAC-11-E6.3.4 presented at the International Astronautical Congress, Capetown, South Africa, October 2011.

164 J. Aprea, U. Block, and E. David, “Industrial Innovation Cycle Analysis of the Orbital Launch Vehicle Industry,” Paper #IAC-E6.2.6 x19035 presented at the International Astronautical Congress, Beijing, China, September 2013.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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contributions, the latter of which far outweigh the total contributions of the other international partners. If the U.S. terminates all government involvement in NASA beyond-LEO exploration—including an asteroid-redirect mission, the Moon, and Mars—human space exploration beyond LEO would probably be delayed by decades, and this would place Mars out of reach until late in the 21st century or early in the 22nd century—and then only if other entities emerge with substantial investment to take the place of U.S. contributions. With regard to the Moon, the situation is less clear because intense commercial development or substantial investment by another country might facilitate lunar exploration, although there is no way to predict that. Termination of U.S. involvement would, in any case, have deleterious effects on the human spaceflight programs and ambitions of many U.S international partners and could complicate future relationships and plans in other areas of joint activity.

The current international partners in the ISS program are not the only nations that are participating in the ISECG. India, the Republic of Korea, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom are also engaged, and China attends the ISECG meetings. All those countries have expressed interest in working with NASA on future opportunities.165 The largest and most active such programs are in India and China. India has collaborated with the United States for many years in space and has expressed an interest in continuing to do so.166

At the end of 2011, China released a white paper detailing its philosophy and programs, updating progress since 2006, and laying out goals for the next 5 years. As described in Chapter 1, China’s plans reflect a clear vision, goals, and methodical program development that build on what has come before, with an active robotic program, development of a space station, and study of expeditions to the Moon. Although China wants to engage cooperatively with the United States in human spaceflight, participation in a joint program is unlikely in the near future because of security concerns and political resistance within the United States.167,168

Termination of human space exploration beyond Earth orbit could shift the momentum of space exploration to the Asia-Pacific region and specifically to China, which is already creating opportunities for cooperative engagement with other nations, including Russia and such other Western powers as Germany and France.169 Any potential geopolitical shift among spacefaring nations away from the United States and toward the Asia-Pacific region could have unknown strategic and practical consequences for the United States.

Finally, termination of the NASA human spaceflight program would render the enduring questions unanswerable by the United States—except for provisional information that can be developed via robotic exploration. Two questions—How far from Earth can humans go? What can humans discover and achieve when we get there?—are intended to create a framework for guiding human space-exploration program development and execution leading toward Mars within the pathways and decision rules outlined in Chapter 4. Termination of the human spaceflight program before that goal would render pursuit of answers to the enduring questions beyond the reach of this nation until such time as the country might decide to return humans to space, leaving it to other countries to engage in and manage the activities required to answer them. The committee believes that such an eventuality is not in the best interests of the United States.

2.7 CONCLUSIONS ON THE BENEFITS OF HUMAN SPACEFLIGHT

The current practical benefits of human spaceflight, although they have meaning for specific stakeholder groups, do not rise to the level of compelling justification for human spaceflight. Aspirational and inspirational rationales and value propositions, however, are most closely aligned with the enduring questions and when “added” to the practical benefits do, in the committee’s judgment, argue for continuation of NASA human spaceflight programs, provided that the pathways approach and decision rules described in Chapter 1 are applied.

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165 Logsdon, 2010.

166 G.S. Sachdeva, Space policy and strategy of India, pp. 303-321 in Space Strategy in the 21st Century (E. Sadeh, ed.), Routledge (Taylor & Francis), London, 2013.

167 S. Chen, U.S. and China partner on small-scale space projects, South China Morning Post, September 30, 2013, http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1321102/us-and-china-partner-small-scale-space-projects.

168 L. David, Security fears impede U.S. space cooperation with a rising China, Space News, December 2, 2013.

169 L. David, China invites foreign astronauts to fly on future space station, Space.com, September 28, 2013, http://www.space.com/22984china-space-station-foreign-astronauts.html.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
×

The NRC report American’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs (2009), noted that “the U.S. civil space program has long demonstrated a capacity to effectively serve U.S. national interests” but recommended future alignment of space-program capabilities and plans with “high-priority national imperatives, including those where space is not traditionally considered,”170 including climate monitoring and change, development of advanced technologies, and international relations. Of these, that committee noted that the imperative of international relations is most closely aligned with human spaceflight and can serve the interests of the United States by “inviting emerging economic powers to join with us in human spaceflight adventures.”171 The report also noted that human spaceflight activities “should be prioritized by their potential for and likelihood of producing a transformative cultural, scientific, commercial, or technical outcome” although it cautioned that such activities require many years and a “long-term commitment to come to fruition.”172 Such outcomes, although they may be possible, represent future objectives of human spaceflight, requiring not only commitment but investment, planning, and management designed to realize them in alignment with the pathways and decision rules developed in the present report.

The analytic and other challenges (e.g., defining and measuring objectives, attributing effects to NASA programs, and evaluating tradeoffs among the various elements of the NASA value proposition and rationales associated with value-proposition analysis) mean that a definitive assessment of the “NASA human spaceflight value proposition” is beyond the capability of the present committee and, in the committee’s judgment, that of most other objective observers. These programs include an array of activities whose outcomes are difficult to monitor, that are affected by multiple other federal programs, and whose monitoring requires detailed data on outcomes that may span decades. Finally, the question What would be lost?—although it offers a different perspective from which to view the benefits of human spaceflight for various stakeholders—does not lead to any change in the conclusions that the committee has developed on the basis of its analysis of the rationales.

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170 NRC, America’s Future in Space: Aligning The Civil Space Program With National Needs, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2009, p. 59.

171 Ibid., p. 63.

172 Ibid.

Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Why Do We Go There?." National Research Council. 2014. Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18801.
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The United States has publicly funded its human spaceflight program on a continuous basis for more than a half-century, through three wars and a half-dozen recessions, from the early Mercury and Gemini suborbital and Earth orbital missions, to the lunar landings, and thence to the first reusable winged crewed spaceplane that the United States operated for three decades. Today the United States is the major partner in a massive orbital facility - the International Space Station - that is becoming the focal point for the first tentative steps in commercial cargo and crewed orbital space flights. And yet, the long-term future of human spaceflight beyond this project is unclear. Pronouncements by multiple presidents of bold new ventures by Americans to the Moon, to Mars, and to an asteroid in its native orbit, have not been matched by the same commitment that accompanied President Kennedy's now fabled 1961 speech-namely, the substantial increase in NASA funding needed to make it happen. Are we still committed to advancing human spaceflight? What should a long-term goal be, and what does the United States need to do to achieve it?

Pathways to Exploration explores the case for advancing this endeavor, drawing on the history of rationales for human spaceflight, examining the attitudes of stakeholders and the public, and carefully assessing the technical and fiscal realities. This report recommends maintaining the long-term focus on Mars as the horizon goal for human space exploration. With this goal in mind, the report considers funding levels necessary to maintain a robust tempo of execution, current research and exploration projects and the time/resources needed to continue them, and international cooperation that could contribute to the achievement of spaceflight to Mars. According to Pathways to Exploration, a successful U.S. program would require sustained national commitment and a budget that increases by more than the rate of inflation.

In reviving a U.S. human exploration program capable of answering the enduring questions about humanity's destiny beyond our tiny blue planet, the nation will need to grapple with the attitudinal and fiscal realities of the nation today while staying true to a small but crucial set of fundamental principles for the conduct of exploration of the endless frontier. The recommendations of Pathways to Exploration provide a clear map toward a human spaceflight program that inspires students and citizens by furthering human exploration and discovery, while taking into account the long-term commitment necessary to achieve this goal.

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