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United States Civil Space Policy: Summary of a Workshop
still genuinely interested in and excited about what is accomplished in the space program. The Hubble Space Telescope and the Mars Exploration Rovers were cited as examples. Some noted that the public does connect in a different way when people—that is, astronauts—are physically involved in the activities. Others added that if the fledgling commercial space tourism industry gains traction there will be enormous new interest in space. During these discussions some participants raised two cautionary notes. First, there were participants who argued that returning to the Moon, which constitutes the first major near-term objective of the Vision, is simply not exciting to people or viewed as expansive or creative. Second, several participants indicated that today’s young generation has different expectations that include a strong desire for a participative experience. According to these speakers, the degree of participation and virtual presence that today’s youth have come to expect is lacking in the Vision.
Several participants made comments about how the perceptions of balance can impact sustainability, and they noted that the concept of balance has multiple dimensions that not everyone will see in the same way. One speaker suggested that at the highest level, balance should be judged by how well program elements are deployed to respond to national needs, such as addressing national security, science, global health, education, and workforce development, all of which might be characterized as high-risk, high-reward areas. Another speaker noted that policy makers assess balance in terms of how program priorities are prescribed by the law (National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, Public Law 85-5683) and how they support priorities set by national policy, noting that electing policy makers and having them make decisions about top-level priorities has worked in the space program for 50 years. The speaker argued that the current administration’s space policy4 has seven top-level goals, which are about equally divided between items for civil space programs and for national security and defense space programs. The former can all be linked to NASA’s strategic plan.
One speaker noted that there is an unfortunate tone in discussions of balance because they appear to pit human space exploration against the scientific and aeronautics sides of NASA. This kind of debate, the speaker indicated, stems from the fact that all sides think that resources for their programs are scarce. The balance deliberation should really be about how to achieve synergies among different parts of NASA, among NASA and other agencies and countries, and between NASA and the private sector.
That speaker also suggested that good metrics for proper balance would include clear indications of measurable progress and success as well as attention to the long-term health of the underlying disciplines. The speaker noted a need to balance long- and short-term goals to prepare the country for unforeseen future developments as well as demonstrating progress toward nearer-term goals. Another speaker suggested that assessing balance requires recognizing that different elements of NASA’s program have different constituencies with different objectives or values. For example, the scientific community measures success in terms of the degree of scientific progress in pursuing its decadal survey priorities;5 the Earth science community measures progress against how well it can address national environmental needs; and the aeronautics community measures progress in terms of responding to the needs of commercial and military air transport interests. Human spaceflight is in a different situation in that its constituency should be the public, although its focus seems to be on NASA rather than the public as a constituency now.
National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, Public Law 85-568, 72 Stat., 426, July 29, 1958, Record Group 255, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C; available in NASA Historical Reference Collection, History Office, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.