National Academies Press: OpenBook

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


Suggested Citation:"PURPOSEFUL, LONG-TERM MANNED SPACE FLIGHT." 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.
Page 14

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14 Only communications satellites have proven to be true commercial successes; the commercial futures of other space applications and of the commercial launch industry without government involvement appear highly uncertain. PURPOSEFUL, LONG-TERM MANNED SPACE FLIGHT The appropriate long-term reason for putting humans into space remains an area of continuing controversy. Given the costs of a manned space flight program, and its role as the most visible segment of the U.S. space effort, the committee believes that the next Administration should address the rationale for a continued manned program directly, recognizing that there are significant disagreements among thoughtful individuals on this question. Some call for commitment now to a bold program of human exploration and expansion beyond the vicinity of Earth. Others believe that the emphasis should be on dis- covering the capabilities of humans as permanent residents in Earth orbit and the impact on crews of living and working in the space environment. Still others believe that a large program of manned space flight activity should be postponed in favor of other space activities with more immediate scientific and economic benefits, particularly because a manned program would require a large commitment of U.S. scientific and technological resources, substantial government funding in quest of returns that are largely intangible, and political support that may not be forthcoming. Although there are situations in which human involvement as an operator of space systems is justified, the most sustainable rationale for today's manned space program is related to the research and technology development activities that are necessary precursors to any decision to commit the United States to sending humans to Mars for initial exploration or back to the Moon for ex- tended stays. Humanity's aspiration to explore other worlds, and perhaps even- tually to expand human presence and activity beyond the immediate vicinity of Earth, provides a vision that gives meaning to current activities involving humans in space. To pursue this aspiration, an orbital laboratory—a space sta- tion—and a focused life sciences program are essential. Giving primary em- phasis to life science and technology development activities, linked to long-term human exploration and expansion, in plans for utilizing a space sta- tion provides a long-term focus for that effort. The ultimate decision to under- take further voyages of human exploration and to begin the process of expanding human activities into the solar system must be based on nontechni- cal factors, and this is appropriately the province of the political process. There is, however, a clear need for substantial scientific and technological research to provide a foundation on which such a decision can be intelligently made. Given human aspirations and technical capabilities, it is difficult to deny that

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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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