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Science in NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration 2 Planning at NASA NASA’S CURRENT SCIENCE PROGRAM NASA’s current space and Earth science programs are the result of a strategic planning process that has been honed over many years. Scientific and programmatic priorities are developed by expert committees convened under the auspices of the National Research Council (NRC), reported on in NRC studies, and then translated by NASA’s roadmapping teams into integrated implementation plans supportive of the agency’s mission. In their most comprehensive form, these NRC studies have strived to identify the potentially most revolutionary science activities in a specific scientific discipline that should be undertaken within a decade.1 Through this process explicit priorities are set, and numerous mission and program concepts assessed as not meeting the standard for producing potentially transformational science are eliminated. In that sense, NASA’s current science program does provide and has always existed to provide the paradigm-altering science consonant with NASA’s purpose, as it pursues the opportunities to explore and in doing so to transform our understanding of the cosmos. The committee welcomes the addition of appropriate strategic goals for human spaceflight. These goals for human exploration build upon and expand the strategic goals that have determined NASA’s Earth and space science program to date. The adoption of new human spaceflight goals for the exploration of space beyond low Earth orbit now requires that near-term efforts be expanded to emphasize the research that is necessary to make long-term human spaceflight a reality. The current NASA mission statement covers all of the appropriate goals—to understand and protect our home planet and to explore the universe. Clarifying the role that humans will play in this enterprise, as stated by President Bush, adds an exciting dimension to the undertaking. The reinvigoration of the human space exploration program makes NASA complete, in that all of its primary space activities, including the synergistic use of robotic spacecraft and human explorers, will contribute to an integrated whole devoted to increasing our understanding of Earth and the universe and to building the foundation for further exploration. NASA’S NEW MAJOR OBJECTIVES To implement its new exploration goals, NASA has embarked on a strategic planning activity organized around the following 13 top-level agency objectives:2 Robotic and Human Lunar Exploration. Robotic and human exploration of the Moon to further science and to enable sustained human and robotic exploration of Mars and other destinations.* Robotic and Human Exploration of Mars. Exploration of Mars, including robotic exploration of Mars to search for evidence of life, to understand the history of the solar system, and to prepare for future human exploration; human expeditions to Mars after acquiring adequate knowledge about the planet using these robotic missions and after successfully demonstrating sustained human exploration missions to the Moon.* 1 These studies, often referred to as decadal strategy surveys, are described in more detail in Chapter 3, and the science activities recommended in them are listed in Appendix A. 2 Available at <http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/apio/roadmap_committees.htm>.
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Science in NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration Solar System Exploration. Robotic exploration across the solar system to search for evidence of life, to understand the history of the solar system, to search for resources, and to support human exploration.* Search for Earth-Like Planets. Search for Earth-like planets and habitable environments around other stars using advanced telescopes.* Exploration Transportation System. Develop a new launch system and crew exploration vehicle to provide transportation to and beyond low Earth orbit. International Space Station. Complete assembly of the International Space Station and focus research to support space exploration goals, with emphasis on understanding how the space environment affects human health and capabilities, and developing countermeasures.* Space Shuttle. Return the space shuttle to flight, complete assembly of the International Space Station, and safely transition from the space shuttle to a new exploration transportation system.* Universe Exploration. Explore the universe to understand its origin, structure, evolution, and destiny.* Earth Science and Applications from Space. Research and technology development to advance Earth observation from space, improve scientific understanding, and demonstrate new technologies with the potential to improve future operational systems.* Sun-Solar System Connection. Explore the Sun-Earth system to understand the Sun and its effects on the Earth, the solar system, and the space environmental conditions that will be experienced by human explorers. Aeronautical Technologies. Advance aeronautical technologies to meet the challenges of next-generation systems in aviation, for civilian and scientific purposes, in our atmosphere and in the atmospheres of other worlds. Education. Use NASA missions and other activities to inspire and motivate the nation's students and teachers, to engage and educate the public, and to advance the nation's scientific and technological capabilities. Nuclear Systems. Utilize nuclear systems for the advancement of space science and exploration. Eight of these objectives have a scientific component and are so noted (*). NASA officials have indicated that strategic roadmaps will be developed that will outline the agency’s plans for accomplishing each of these objectives. The committee reviewed the 13 NASA strategic objectives, particularly those relating to science, and finds them to be comprehensive and appropriate. They have the potential to cover all of the scientific goals identified by the science community that should be pursued under NASA’s broad mission statement, which in turn is supported by the recent policy directives governing NASA. However, the committee recognized that the real challenge will be to develop an appropriate mechanism to integrate these different efforts and, where appropriate, to develop interdisciplinary programs in support of a sustainable and affordable space exploration endeavor. PLANNING FOR SCIENCE SELECTION The breadth of NASA’s strategic objectives is an important strength. The topics do not distinguish between science and human exploration. Rather, they recognize that each topic offers the opportunity to advance, and to benefit from, understanding of the universe in which we live, and each is a worthy endeavor in a strong space exploration program. Therefore the committee recommends that, as
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Science in NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration planning roadmaps are developed to pursue NASA’s objectives and as priorities are set among them, decisions be based on the potential for making the greatest impact and that the strategic roadmaps do the following: Emphasize the critical scientific or technical breakthroughs that are possible, and in some cases necessary, and Highlight how a vibrant space program can be achieved by selecting from an array of approaches to realizing potential breakthroughs across the full spectrum of goals embodied in NASA’s mission statement. As programs are developed to fulfill the objectives and generate results, NASA will have to periodically ask whether they are Altering our basic understanding of the cosmos, Changing our perceptions of our place in the universe, and/or Advancing our future as a space-faring civilization. There are many examples of significant breakthroughs in the history of NASA. Surely, the Apollo program’s landing of a human on the Moon was revolutionary and transformational. So was the Voyager mission to the outer planets, which revealed new and unanticipated worlds; the Hubble Space Telescope, which observes the wonders of the distant universe; and the Earth Observing System missions, which reveal the fantastic complexity of global-scale environmental connectivities on our home planet. Lesser-known programs have also made dramatic advances, such as the collection of missions that have revealed the complexity of Earth’s magnetosphere or the dynamic behavior of the Sun, the results of which are crucial to successful human habitation of space beyond low Earth orbit. For both human and robotic programs, the basic standard of achievement and impact is whether a program will lead to a fundamentally different understanding or perspective. For future missions or programs it is imperative to prioritize based on which will provide the greatest return. If a new mission or program is to proceed it must demonstrate the potential for, and likelihood of, a transformative outcome, through a more comprehensive approach, increased measurement resolution and sensitivity, or the opportunity to visit or observe some unique new location. The argument needs to be realistic and compelling because available resources always will limit the number of programs that can be supported. There will be some science programs that enable human exploration and its transformative results and others that in themselves will transform our understanding of the cosmos. These programs will compete with each other for resources, and it will be difficult to select among them. In this competition it is important to insist that “enabling” science must be truly enabling—that is, necessary to solve a critical problem in the exploration program. Such problem-focused research must be subjected to regular reviews that are as open, rigorous, and selective as those conducted to assess proposals for transformative science (e.g., the decadal surveys). In most cases enabling science is broadly multidisciplinary, which calls for review by groups with expertise in diverse specializationsa requirement necessary not only to ensure an appropriate review but also to guard against the possibility that purely disciplinary reviews will have an inappropriately narrow focus on critical problems. To ensure that the research and the reviews stay focused on the problems that need to be solved, it will be important for representatives of organizations that identified the operational requirements and/or that will have to deliver operational systems to participate in the reviews. Based on the preceding discussions, the committee recommends the following guiding principles:3 3 These principles share much in common with those recommended in the National Research Council report Science Management in the Human Exploration of Space (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1997).
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Science in NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration Exploration is a key step in the search for fundamental and systematic understanding of the universe around us. Exploration done properly is a form of science. Both robotic spacecraft and human spaceflight should be used to fulfill scientific roles in NASA’s mission to explore. When, where, and how they are used should depend on what best serves to advance intellectual understanding of the cosmos and our place in it and to lay the technical and cultural foundations for a space-faring civilization. Robotic exploration of space has produced and will continue to provide paradigm-altering discoveries; human spaceflight now presents a clear opportunity to change our sense of our place in the universe. The targets for exploration should include the Earth where we live, the objects of the solar system where humans may be able to visit, the broader solar system including the Sun, and the vast universe beyond. The targets should be those that have the greatest opportunity to advance our understanding of how the universe works, who we are, where we came from, and what is our ultimate destiny. Preparation for long-duration human exploration missions should include research to resolve fundamental engineering and science challenges. More than simply development problems, those challenges are multifaceted and will require fundamental discoveries enabled by crosscutting research that spans traditional discipline boundaries. INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION An important aspect of the roadmapping process for fulfilling NASA’s new major objectives will involve international activities. Many of the roadmaps will be more effective if they are developed in collaboration with the parallel similar efforts being conducted by space programs throughout the world. There exists already a rich history of successful international collaborations—a foundation worth strengthening, expanding, and building upon. In the committee’s view, it is the whole of humankind that pushes out the boundaries of the known universe, and it is therefore essential to encourage international collaborators. SPACE SHUTTLE AND THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION One of the important ideas at the 2003 NRC space policy workshop4 was the need for an exit strategy for the space shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS), including the need for a focused mission for the ISS. The workshop recognized that human exploration could provide the context for deciding on the future of the shuttle and the mission of the ISS.5 In the January 2004 presidential policy directive on exploration, NASA is told to retire the shuttle as soon as the assembly of the ISS is complete, which is assumed to be by 2010,6 and to focus the research conducted on the ISS on supporting the space exploration goals. Indeed, in the FY2005 presidential budget request for NASA, it was argued that the 4 National Research Council, Issues and Opportunities Regarding the U.S. Space Program: A Summary Report of a Workshop on National Space Policy, National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2004. 5 Several NRC reports have addressed the implications of focusing ISS research on support of space exploration. For example, see A Strategy for Research in Space Biology and Medicine into the Next Century (1998), Review of NASA’s Biomedical Research Program (2000), Factors Affecting the Utilization of the International Space Station for Research in the Biological and Physical Sciences (2002), and Assessment of Directions in Microgravity and Physical Sciences Research at NASA (2003), all NRC reports published by the National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. 6 The policy guidance is ambiguous with respect to what should happen if ISS assembly is not completed by 2010. There exists a range of options on the matter that must ultimately be decided before exploration beyond low Earth orbit can reasonably commence.
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Science in NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration human exploration program is affordable because the shuttle will be retired and the operations of the ISS will be refocused on identifying and solving problems associated with long-duration human spaceflight missions. The importance of retiring the shuttle and focusing ISS research in the most cost-effective way cannot be overemphasized. Concerns with costs underscore the need for a compelling plan for the science that can be accomplished only with the ISS. NASA’s goals to continue exploration of the universe through its robotic science missions, and now to move forward with human exploration, will require expanded resources. It is difficult to imagine a budget for NASA that will allow it both to accommodate its past and to pursue its future. The committee believes that the burdens of NASA’s past that do not support the future should be eliminated as soon as possible.
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