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4 Rationales for the Space Program: Science' Technology' and Exploration SSB member and astronomer Megan Urry of Yale University served as moderator for the panel, which was composed of planetary scientist and former senior NASA executive Wesley Huntress of the Carnegie Institution of Washington; astronomer Riccarclo Giacconi, a research professor at Johns Hopkins University and president of Associated Universities, Inc.; planetary scientist and former astronaut Thomas Jones; microbiologist Mary Jane Osborn of the University of Connecticut; and ASEB member and aerospace engineering professor Dava Newman of MIT. Panelists were asked to explore the following questions in their remarks: What are the contributions of science and exploration to broacler national interests? · Is the new knowledge created by science the ultimate objective of the U.S. space program, or Is it a by-product of space activities carried out for other reasons? . What are the contributions of humans in space as researchers, as explorers, as motivators? Giacconi opened by saying that it was important to be clear about the Tong-term goals of the space program, which he cited as (1) the pursuit of science and (2) human exploration. He suggested that the rationale for the two programs should be separate and that one cannot justify the human exploration program because of science, or vice versa. Efforts to justify the ISS on the basis of science are not productive. Giacconi argued that the ISS should focus on being an enabling technology testbect and human physiology laboratory in support of Tong-term human space exploration. He aclclecl that our space assets should be consiclerect capital investments to be serviced and built upon (as has been the case with the Hubble Space Telescope), not just thrown away. This provides a rationale for human spaceflight in acictition to exploration. Giacconi stated that the science program is going well, floes not need acictitional justification because it stancts on its own merits, and is working almost as an inclepenclent agency at NASA.i He ctisagreect that science should be a fixed part of NASA's budget; it should compete, as any other discipline must. However, on the issue of human exploration, Giacconi noted that the problems are much greater than for the science programs, and the lack of Tong-term goals for human exploration has been disastrous. He argued that the goal of the human exploration program should be a permanent colony at Mars and that technical and fiscal planning toward this goal should start now. The ISS should be used to support that goal. The strive to explore is human, he noted; exploration is a general impulse of human nature. Osborn ctiscussect the life sciences program, a small component of NASA's science program, which includes research on fundamental biological processes that are dependent on gravity for development or function or both, those aspects of physiology and behavior that are affected by microgravity environments, and medical and applied biosciences that are relevant either to flight safety or to Tong-term human survival and performance in space. She said these sciences should have a high priority in the life sciences program if there is a true commitment to human exploration of space. Osborn reflected that, at present, the U.S. commitment to human spaceflight is fragile and that enthusiasm has steadily eroclect since the Moon landings. She noted that the ISS was in a perilous state before the Columbia tragedy, and given federal deficit projections there will be limited funds to rescue the ISS as a meaningful platform for high-quaTity life sciences research. It is difficult to argue that life sciences should have a high priority in the current NASA portfolio, because no highly visible past successes or breakthroughs can be claimed. Some of the choices that lect to life sciences experiments in the past were not well consiclerect, and in response the community cleemect some experiments trivial. See Giacconi's contributed abstract, "On the Future of the Space Program," Appendix E. 19
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NASA's biomedical research will not solve terrestrial problems of aging or cancer, but the NASA program is essential to unclerstancting astronaut performance in space and the effects of the space environment on human health. Osborn asserted that if there is no commitment to Tong-cluration human spaceflight, the rationale for NASA's biomedical program largely evaporates. There are a limited set of physical and biological processes that are dependent on gravity plant gravitropism and vestibular physiology, for example. The mechanisms for such processes are not well unclerstooct and can only be stuctiect in space where gravity is an inclepenclent variable. Biological experiments often require intervention by humans, hence the need for the ISS and the need for trained human investigators. But if the ISS is maintained as a platform for research on Tong-cluration spaceflight and there is a true commitment to human exploration of space, then research to ensure the health and performance of astronauts becomes relevant as a major concern. Osborn aciclect that it is unclear whether the space station will be completest to the point that it can fairly be regarclect as a good laboratory facility. Even before the Columbia accident, declines in the projected capabilities of facilities on the ISS tract lect to Toss of interest by the life sciences community. Nevertheless, while the current outlook is bleak, the role of the space station in preparing for future human space exploration is very important. Huntress began by saying that we explore space with humans for psycho-social reasons that can't be quantified. It's a discretionary activity for government, but the benefits must be powerful or we would not have invested. We have an imperative to explore; it's a survival instinct. Moreover, he argued that human exploration is part of our culture, part of who we are as a nation. We explore space because we choose to do so, because we have a manifest destiny in space. The economic benefits of exploration are unpredictable, but they always follow. Huntress remarked that science is the principal product of the robotic program, which has a solid basis of support inside and outside the Washington beltway, and referred to the inspiration and productivity of the space science program in his written abstract.2 However, he noted that decisions on the human exploration program will be macle more on societal than on scientific grouncts.3 When a decision is macle to continue human exploration beyond Tow Earth orbit it will provide an opportunity for science, and that science should be the force in defining the goals for human exploration. He reflected that Apollo accomplished its real (geopolitical) goals and that the nation then movect on to other priorities. The ISS and the shuttle are products of NASA's attempting over the clecacles to preserve the Apollo-like era of human spaceflight, an era that has Greatly passed. The problems we are experiencing are not with human spaceflight but with this kind of human spaceflight. The ISS is not the kind of platform it was supposed to be for missions beyond Tow Earth orbit, and the shuttle is not the cheap, Tow-risk transportation system it was supposed to be. We've been burclenect with a history of misguiclect policy decisions, the legacy of which is not easily or quickly undone, according to Huntress. The legacy of the Columbia accident should be to create a new pathway and a sense of purpose for human spaceflight. We should create a more robust transportation system for astronauts and a more rewarding program of exploration for these heroes. If space explorers are to risk their lives, it should be for extraordinary reasons and challenging ones such as exploration of the Moon, Mars, and asteroids, or constructing and servicing space telescopes, and not for making 90- minute trips around Earth. He asserted that the point of leaving home is to go somewhere, and not to endlessly circle the block, which is what we've been cloing for 30 years. Robotic and human exploration programs have always coexistent and cooperated to some extent. Humans provide the public with a sense of human destiny in space. Robotic exploration is an extension of the human experience. Huntress said that we always seem to need heroes, and astronauts are heroes of this age. Sooner or later we need a clear destination for human exploration or it simply will not survive. This effort floes not have to be funclect 2 See Huntress's contributed abstract, "On Future National Space Policy," Appendix E. 3 This point is echoed in Space Studies Board, National Research Council, The Human Exploration of Space, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1997. 20
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like Apollo, Huntress saicl; it can proceed at a much steadier pace. He suggested that the nation adopt a Tong-term policy to establish a permanent human presence in the solar system beyond Tow Earth orbit. Newman stated that NASA's mandate is exploration, and she focused her remarks on exploration and the need for humans in space. She highlighted that exploration is synonymous with education, inspiration, motivation, excitement, ctreams, and creativity, and that every one of us has been touched by space exploration. She noted that future generations are the heirs of whatever short-term or Tong-term policy is set. She argued that a national space policy should include education starting with K-12 and extending beyond, and should inclucle a commitment to clevelop the future workforce. Students are most interested in solving the challenges that haven't been solvent yet. Newman supported the role of both humans and robots in space. Robots enable exploration and humans enable serendipity, she saint. She argued that it's senseless to pit humans against robots, and that we need to find the right balance and combination between the two. 4 Newman also referred to the risk of human spaceflight and noted that risk should be reclucect if possible. However, given the high risk for missions beyond Tow Earth orbit, she argued that we need to articulate the message of our goal in space and then accept the risk. The acceptance of risk, however, is clepenclent on educating the public, she noted. Newman suggested that the ISS is best used as a testbect and for research into the physiological effects of spaceflight, and that science on the space station should be focused on Tong-cluration performance. She also said that the United States should be a leacler in the commitment to peaceful cooperation in space, and that future plans for human exploration should involve international cooperation. Jones ctiscussect the contributions of humans as explorers and motivators. "I'm a successfully flown and returned space life sciences experiment," he quipped. He said that we, as a nation, have to confront the ethics of sending our astronauts into space. What mission justifies the risk we are asking them to take? He stated that the goal must be commensurate with the risk we ask our explorers to take. Jones ctiscussect four unique characteristics of humans as explorers, all crucial to the future of the space program: Experience. Only humans are capable of applying insight, unclerstancting our questions about the universe, and acting/reacting on human time scales. Involving humans is also necessary for getting results politically. Flexibility. Humans are good problem solvers and are innately flexible. The cletailect studies that we want to conduct on asteroids, the Moon, and Mars can only be clone by humans. Human skills include problem recognition, prioritization of problems, exercise of judgment, and mechanical skills. We can Took at how humans have salvaged situations in space (e.g., satellite repairs, Hubble Space Telescope servicing, and intervention to replace critical components). In comparison, the robotic Galileo mission lost its high-gain antenna and couldn't be helpect because it wasn't accessible to humans. · Confidence. Humans substantially increase the opts of mission success. When we want to see the results within the span of a human career, or if we must succeed in a space endeavor (e.g., a cletailect search for life on Mars, or a crucial asteroid deflections, human flexibility and prompt decision making at the scene are neeclecl. · Communication. Only humans can convey the experience of being in space to humans on Earth. We have an innate curiosity that can't be satisfied by data and images. We are not satisfied with our knowledge of a place unless we hear from a human who's been there and can then experience it vicariously. Private space travel will attract a market for these reasons. Jones noted that Americans always have tract a sense of the importance of pioneering the frontier. When Jefferson ctispatchect Lewis and Clark to the unknown West, those captains were fully aware of the 4 Mankins, J.C., "The Exploration and Development of Space: The International Space Station and Beyond," from Beyond the ISS. The Future of Human Spaceflight, Advanced Programs Office, NASA, Washington, D.C. 21
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importance of their mission to America's future. For 200 years, Americans have iclentifiect with that spirit of pioneering, even though relatively few played an active role in the Westward expansion. Space exploration builds on that American characteristic and taps into our society's clesire to find success and opportunity on this century's frontier. Session moderator Megan Urry opened the discussion by noting that she tract Hearst a unified response among the panelists that the science clone in space has been extremely successful and has allowed many people to wonder about the universe. Should science and exploration be separate? She summarized that panelists seemed to think that science should not have to justify exploration and that exploration is a cultural endeavor. She also asked the pane! to consider the question of what is acceptable risk. What activities make that risk worthwhile? The participants ctiscussect a human's ability to survive Tong-cluration space missions and the research necessary to enable a Tong-term presence in space. SSB member Harry McSween noted that there is an unspoken assumption for a grander vision of humans beyond Tow Earth orbit, which is that the medical problems can be solvent, although we don't yet know that this is not an insurmountable obstacle. NASA ought to make this biomedical research a higher priority than it is. Osborn stated that there can be effective countermeasures for Tong-cluration exposure to microgravity. These are physiological problems that can be unclerstooct and acictressecl. However, physiological or pharmacological interventions that can take care of severe exposure to radiation are unlikely. How to protect astronauts from radiation over Tong periods of time is a hardware issue. She said that we should follow a mix of biomedical research, most of which should be ground basest, with limited flight experiments to test the hypotheses and proposed countermeasure activities. Giacconi argued that the focus of study should be on fractional gravity (artificial gravity) rather than microgravity, and Osborn agreed. She said that we need the experiments to know what factional gravity is needled, however. Richardson said the importance of studying gravity as an inclepenclent variable has to be emphasized. He felt that many early experiments in life sciences have tract peculiar and harct-to- believe results, and unless one can turn gravity on and off, research on the effects of gravity is absolutely critical. The ISS core-complete design floes not include the capability to study gravity as an inclepenclent variable because the design floes not include a variable-gravity centrifuge. Osborn aciclect that the biomedical science that should be clone on the ISS is clear, but the ISS has not tract the required facilities or crew time or expertise to conduct those experiments. She felt that 95 percent of the research that has to be clone can be clone on the ground. To prepare for human exploration beyond Tow Earth orbit, the ISS is inadequate as it now exists, and NRC reports specify these points.5 Giacconi suggested that we need more emphasis on technology clevelopment that could be used in turn for assembly, servicing, and robot- to-robot work and that could strengthen the ISS capability. The public would not co alone with abandoning the ISS. Ingber stressed the need to prioritize what has to be clone and to do the science that meets priorities within the necessary time frame. In response to the moclerator's earlier question, many participants voiced agreement that human exploration cannot be justified on purely scientific grounds, but the goals of human exploration should include attendant scientific goals so as to gain the maximum return. Frosch took issue with the division of science and exploration and argued that exploration is a form of science; it is science at an early stage. He referred to the oceanographic community and noted that scientists want to dive on the Alvin and Took at the creep oceans, because they see things and get from the experience something that they do not get from remote presentations. "Do we really want crumb robots telling us the pre-history of Mars?" Frosch asked. Participants also ctiscussect the issue of risk tolerance in the program. Fisk remarked that problems with the Herman exploration program imply risks and humans can clear with risks. Yet, he noted, we have 5 See Space Studies Board, National Research Council, A Strategy for Research in Space Biology and Medicine in the New Century, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1998; Space Studies Board, National Research Council, Factors Affecting the Utilization of the International Space Station for Research in the Biological and Physical Sciences, National Academies Press, 2002. 22
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a space program and a public that are risk-averse. We have lost many more people in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the Toss of astronauts macle a huge impact. How do we take a culture that is risk-averse and create a space program that unclerstancts risks, accepts risks, and has a role for humans? Huntress noted that if the human spaceflight program tract a clear goal and destination, then there would be more tolerance for risk on the part of the public. Huntress stated that the shuttle is too risky to continue using other than to travel to the ISS. We need to reinvent the system for crew and for cargo transport to the ISS and separate the two. For the crew part, travel should be reliable, Tow cost, and focus on the safety of the crew. Jones stated that beyond the ISS we need a versatile platform that allows a variety of missions. Regarding the shuttle, SSB member and former astronaut Tamara Jernigan said that even if the risks were greater, astronauts would still fly. Risk is justifiable for those who commit to flying on the shuttle. Exploration, by definition, is a dangerous venture that requires risk taking. Thus, the goal is not to eliminate risk, but rather to minimize risk that is clue to poor management or lack of rigor, and hence that is both easily avoidable and unacceptable. 23
Representative terms from entire chapter: