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Suggested Citation:"INTRODUCTION." National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering. 1988. Toward a New Era in Space: Realigning Policies to New Realities. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18717.
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INTRODUCTION The United States has received remarkable benefits from its space programs over the past thirty years. Our investments in space have enhanced our national security, advanced commerce, furthered scientific research and ex- ploration, and provided critical public services such as weather forecasting and environmental monitoring. Even greater benefits can flow from future space ac- tivities if they are guided by clear goals and objectives, adequately funded, and implemented by vital, effective, and efficient institutions. The full potential of the U.S. space program, however, will not be achieved unless policy changes are made. These changes are needed to align the nation's policies with the new realities that dominate worldwide space ac- tivity. These realities include the rapidly growing space capabilities of other na- tions; the lack of long-term, widely supported, attainable goals that has led the U.S. space program to promise greater performance than its resources enabled it to deliver; the necessary transition away from a period during which the space shuttle held a monopoly on space launches; and protracted constraints on the federal budget. Many of the benefits from U.S. space activities today flow from the momentum established during the 1960s, when Project Apollo was the center- piece of a strongly supported national commitment to space preeminence. No similar commitment has emerged since, and the 1986 Challenger accident only emphasized the need to rethink U.S. space policies and programs. The uncertainties surrounding the U.S. civilian program have become evi- dent at a time when other nations are pursuing vigorous, goal-oriented space programs of their own. In 1969, as American astronauts took the initial steps on the lunar surface, the United States was clearly the preeminent space power, and others looked to it for leadership. This is no longer true. In addition to a continued Soviet commitment to a broadly based space effort, many other countries possess sophisticated technologies and skills with which to pursue their interests in space. American preeminence in every field of space activity is no longer a realis- tic option. Even if budgetary resources were available, the scope of space science, applications, and exploratory missions under discussion around the world clearly call for increased international cooperation. Partnerships with other nations and organizations can serve to demonstrate leadership, to forge productive relationships, and to broaden the range of available opportunities, but only if international commitments are made carefully and honored fully. In- deed, the time may be approaching when the old ways of thinking about com- petition and cooperation must fall behind, and large activities will be pursued jointly with many nations to benefit all humanity.

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The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering assembled a group of experts in science, economics, engineering, and private technology-based enterprise to examine past space policies and their consequences and to recommend policies that should guide the national space program over the long term. Of special concern was the lack of national consensus regarding the long-term goals of the civil space program, which led to the loss of heavy launch capabilities, the fall of the Skylab, and, for lack of alternative launch vehicles, the prolonged absence of the United States from space following the Challenger accident. Without a durable framework to establish priorities, the U.S. space program has promised too much for the resources made available to it.

Toward a New Era in Space concludes that major changes are needed in the way the country and its leaders approach national space policy. The foundation of space policy is its sense of purpose—national goals that are imaginative, durable, and affordable. These goals and the programs to achieve them must recognize the growing capabilities of other nations and, through cooperation, accomplish objectives otherwise unobtainable. Major challenges also provide major opportunities. This report addresses those near-term decisions that can lead to a fruitful, consistent U.S. space program in the decades to come.


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