National Academies Press: OpenBook

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


Suggested Citation:"SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS." 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:"SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS." 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 23

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22 SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS The successful launch of the space shuttle Discovery on September 29, 1988, restored the U.S. capacity for manned space flight and reopened an im- portant avenue to space. These restored capabilities, however, raise questions regarding their use—what are the U.S. purposes in space, and how can we best achieve them in a time of protracted constraints on federal spending? These questions require early, yet thoughtful, resolution. Early, because postponed decisions tend to bind policy to ongoing programs, such as the cur- rent space station, that become increasingly costly to alter. Thoughtful, because choices made now will shape the capabilities of the United States in space for many decades and will affect commitments to our closest allies. These decisions are a matter of public choice, not technological imperative, and so presidential leadership is essential. Decisions Regarding Goals The most important space decisions the new President must make concern the nation's goals. These must be sufficiently bold to maintain the United States as a leading spacefaring nation, yet paced to be achievable within a con- strained budget. The most controversial decisions concern our goals for human activity in space. The will to explore is a fundamental trait of mankind, and the aspiration to extend human presence beyond the Earth's orbit will lend meaning and sup- port to many aspects of the space program. But human exploration requires a strong scientific and technological foundation. This foundation should be strengthened before it can sustain long-duration exploratory missions. Finally, U.S. space goals should take into account the rapid progress in space science and technology made by the Soviet Union, Western Europe, China, and Japan. Through cooperative projects, the United States might achieve technological, financial, and political advantages otherwise unat- tainable. This nation, however, must participate as a reliable partner or not at all. Decisions Regarding Methods To accomplish these goals, the President must select an Administrator for NASA who shares his vision and can work effectively with the Congress to bring it about. This should be an early priority. Interagency policy setting and coordinating mechanisms might be useful, but these cannot substitute for a strong Administrator who enjoys the President's confidence.

23 NASA itself must be revitalized. This will require stronger management capabilities in the Headquarters and redefinition of the now diffuse missions of the field centers. Some centers should be privately operated to ensure their ability to attract and retain technically qualified people. Space operations should be managed separately from space science, research, and development. Decisions Regarding Programs A civil space program capable of achieving national goals should have two distinct components. The first should be a balanced, stable base program to ensure U.S. competence in key areas of space activity, resting on a strong foun- dation of modern facilities and high-quality human resources. The second com- ponent should consist of large, long-term special initiatives serving U.S. political, cultural, and foreign policy interests and proposed by the President with congressional support. The space station, which has been the object of much study and for which international agreements have been signed, is one such special initiative and will require an early decision by the new Administration. The committee believes a station is essential to establish the feasibility of human exploration beyond the Earth's orbit and to develop the necessary technologies. However, final decisions regarding the configuration of such a station should await the President's decisions regarding goals. Goals that emphasize human exploration, for example, would require that the U.S. space station module be optimized for research in life sciences. Later, potential special initiatives might include an automated Mars sample return mission, a return of humans to the Moon or a trip on to Mars. A basic technical competence in space activity is essential to ensure effec- tive use of the resources invested in the special initiatives, and a capable space infrastructure is essential for both the base program and special initiatives. Launch vehicles and services must be reliable, diverse, and affordable. There should also be closer coordination between the civil space program and the defense space program to make better use of common technology and in- frastructure. Decisions Regarding Budget Priorities The current NASA budget of $10 billion to $11 billion provides for a base program and the early stage of one special initiative, a manned space station. The three highest priorities in the base program should be assured access to space by a variety of launch vehicles, advanced technology development to sup- port national security and civil undertakings and to enable challenging mis-

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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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