articulated long-range goals for human exploration and a step-by-step program to meet such goals. It emphasized that it was essential to recognize the importance of humans in exploration and to break the bounds of low-Earth orbit and once again have humans venture forth into the solar system.

In agreement with views expressed at the workshop, the committee believes that aspects of the robotic science program’ s planning and execution are applicable to the human spaceflight program, and the committee recommends that successful aspects of the robotic science program—especially its emphasis on having a clear strategic plan that is executed so as to build on incremental successes to sustain momentum, use resources efficiently, enforce priorities, and enable future breakthroughs—should be applied in the human spaceflight program.

Workshop participants also argued that human space exploration conducted synergistically with robotic exploration would produce the best possible overall space program. There also was recognition that success in this new type of venture would require a cultural change in the organization and management of NASA itself.

In discussing the rationale for sending humans into space, the NRC workshop participants noted that the old issues tied to Cold War competition with the Soviet Union have been superseded by more complex dimensions of global technological competition, and today the reasons emerge from an innate human desire to know—to learn, to extend our grasp with technology, to move civilization forward. We do so by exploring, and we choose the means that are most appropriate. In some cases, we can achieve our exploration goals through robotic missions that conduct in situ sampling or telescopic observations. In other cases, the human presence and human expertise and experience are necessary.

On January 14, 2004, NASA received specific instructions from President George W. Bush to undertake a space exploration program with a clear set of goals, including “[implementation of] a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the solar system and beyond” and “[extension of] the human presence across the solar system, starting with a human return to the Moon in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations.”2 Thus the president’s new vision for space exploration shares many of the characteristics defined independently in the November 2003 NRC space policy workshop. A statement in the president’s speech accompanying his announcement particularly resonates with the views of workshop participants: “This is a journey, not a race.” That principle recognizes that reorienting the human spaceflight program toward exploration goals is a pivotal step in the inevitable march of humankind into space.3 It also emphasizes the risk and inefficiency of artificial deadlines, and it supports the “go as you pay” principle enunciated in the 2003 workshop.


In considering the various opportunities available in the context of a reinvigorated human exploration program, the committee concluded that expansion of the frontiers of human spaceflight and the robotic study of the broader universe can be complementary approaches to a larger goal. The robotic exploration of space has led to and will continue to provide paradigm-altering discoveries: Understanding the dark energy that powers the universe as well as the Sun’s role in influencing Earth’s climate, for


A Renewed Spirit of Discovery, the President’s Vision for U.S. Space Exploration, The White House, January 2004.


Analyzing roles for humans in space exploration was not part of the committee’s charge, but the value of human exploration is a premise that the committee accepts. That subject has been addressed in the NRC report Scientific Opportunities in the Human Exploration of Space (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1994). Specific examples of past benefits from astronauts’ flexibility and capacity to evaluate complex situations and adapt to unexpected situations are documented in Where No Man Has Gone Before, A History of the Apollo Lunar Exploration Missions (by William David Compton, The NASA History Series, NASA SP-4214, NASA, Washington, D.C., 1989) and in Assessment of Options for Extending the Lifetime of the Hubble Space Telescope (National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2004).

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