National Academies Press: OpenBook

Toward a New Era in Space: Realigning Policies to New Realities (1988)


Suggested Citation:"THE LEADERSHIP ROLE OF THE PRESIDENT." 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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Suggested Citation:"THE LEADERSHIP ROLE OF THE PRESIDENT." 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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A key problem in U.S. civil space policy is the lack of a widely under- stood purpose, direction, and time scale for the manned program. In the ab- sence of a consensus regarding such issues, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has achieved only limited success in gaining support for an ambitious program built around a continuing commitment to manned space flight—sometimes at the expense of other important space activities. Faced with expectations that it would provide leadership in all areas, particular- ly in manned flight, but without adequate funds, the space agency attempted to move ahead on a broad front. The result was a brittle program that could not be sustained over the long term. The severity of the situation became clear after the Challenger accident, but this recognition also coincided with growing concerns for the federal budget. Faced with spending constraints for all scientific and technological en- deavors, the resources required to correct past policy mistakes—especially sole reliance on the space shuttle for access to space—have been diverted from more forward-looking efforts. Thus, the future direction of the civilian space program will remain uncer- tain without strong leadership by the President. But this is also a moment of op- portunity, when well-conceived policies can propel the United States into a leadership position for the next century. This paper is intended to assist the new Administration in developing the policies, capabilities, and national consensus needed to rebuild a vigorous space program. THE LEADERSHIP ROLE OF THE PRESIDENT The civilian space program can be a powerful instrument of national policy. A leading position in space, one that is the result of setting challenging goals and achieving them, reflects the technological capabilities of a nation. Space can provide an international showcase for American technology and for goods and services based on that technology. The challenge of space can motivate many young Americans to excel in engineering and science and can draw high-quality foreign researchers to U.S. universities and laboratories. For these reasons, a purposeful, technically competent U.S. space program should be fully exploited to advance U.S. national interests. Leadership does not require U.S. preeminence in all space activities, and much can be gained by partnerships with other nations. Leadership does re- quire that the United States be a competent participant in all areas of space ac- tivity—national security, applications, science, and exploration—and that it be in the vanguard in those activities most clearly associated with the President's

goals for space. Activities involving humans are of particular importance in this context. This is the arena in which presidential decisions and continuing involve- ment are required. Without a strong commitment from the President, it is dif- ficult, if not impossible, to gain the broad public support and commitment of resources required to initiate and carry out long-term, necessarily expensive programs. This is because many of the benefits of space leadership—such as national prestige or geopolitical advantage—are long term and intangible. These cannot readily be quantified, even though numerous examples of direct benefits can be found. By contrast, the costs are apparent to all. Thus, steady and affirmative leadership from the President is required to maintain national space priorities within the larger context of the federal budget. Manned space flight is a necessary element of space leadership, a conse- quence of cultural values and human aspirations to expand beyond the Earth's confines. The space shuttle and space station represent early elements of this expansion. It is crucial, however, that the manned program be so designed that it is not carried out at the expense of other important civilian space activities in technology development, science, and applications and that it can be paced to be affordable on a sustained basis. Because space leadership is important to U.S. national interests and space is properly a presidential issue, the President should ask the country to support national space goals that are sufficiently imaginative and bold to assert a com- mitment to space leadership. To give visibility to the importance of his space program, the President must establish his goals early in his Administration. He should then support them strongly with the public and the Congress to help en- sure their achievement. To implement these goals, a formal policy development and coordinating mechanism for the government agencies involved in space activities could be of benefit. But such bodies cannot substitute for presidential leadership and commitment. As an indication of his commitment to a strong civilian space program, the President should give high priority to recruiting as the new NASA Ad- ministrator an individual who shares his goals, who can work effectively with the Congress, and who is widely respected for managerial effectiveness. This individual should be selected as early as possible in the transition process so that he or she will be ready to take charge of the agency when the new Ad- ministration takes office. Conversely, delay in filling this position would be demoralizing within the space community and would suggest that this aspect of the national agenda is being given low priority.

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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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