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United States Civil Space Policy: Summary of a Workshop
only that international aspects of space exploration are very important but also that a geopolitical context for the U.S. space program is essential. One speaker posited that the prevailing view needs to be that “space is not a race but a responsibility”—that is, that the principal aim of the U.S. space program should be international leadership in exploration, science, and technology and that the United States should use space activities to lead efforts on global issues such as energy, resources, and climate, that is, to become a benevolent hegemon.
Some speakers cited NASA’s science programs and the International Space Station (ISS) as notable international cooperation success stories. One speaker opined that successful human missions to Mars can only be accomplished through international cooperation. Some participants cited problems arising from the current application of export controls, especially the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which create impediments to much international cooperation on space projects, and argued that these impediments need to be fixed.2
ENSURING ROBUSTNESS THROUGH NEW APPROACHES AND ATTITUDES
Nearly half of the workshop participants mentioned impressions about threats to the robustness of NASA’s program and commented about potential approaches to cope with those problems. Several speakers urged that the first step is for senior government leaders to acknowledge that there is a problem and that, as is noted in Chapter 2, there is a serious mismatch between NASA’s assigned responsibilities and its available resources—that is, issues of budget realism, program feasibility, and sustainability must be addressed head-on. Others added that this problem needs to be specified better quantitatively.
Speakers offered a number of ideas about what is needed to deal with the current problems. Elements of a strategy included putting a budget wall between resources for science and exploration, becoming more open to international and commercial partnerships, protecting investments in capabilities that will be needed in the future, and limiting lunar mission activities to only what is needed to prepare for future Mars missions. Some participants argued for planning an exploration program that goes directly to Mars and bypasses the Moon.
One speaker advocated a specific strategy for avoiding the impending “train wreck” to which many other participants referred during the workshop. The speaker argued that there is a need to “slow down the train” by deferring the first human mission to the Moon; extending the use of the ISS in support of R&D for later human exploration; establishing telepresence on the Moon; creating an environment of institutional stability in NASA’s program elements; building globally inclusive working groups on direct missions to Mars, global change, and space science; and defining real, meaningful jobs for humans in space.
Finally, a few participants commented that the workshop discussions had been too pessimistic and that there is reason for optimism, especially for the long term. These participants argued that there is great promise for long-term progress in much of NASA’s program and that if there is a willingness to make some changes in course, the program will succeed.
In closing the final session, moderator Colladay remarked that at the beginning of the workshop he had urged people to take a non-advocate approach and to look at the space program in a broad context. He observed that, in fact, people had looked at the current situation more critically than is often the case in other industries. The discussions focused more on problems than on solutions, but he suggested that the first step toward solving problems is to engage with the problem. He concluded that the workshop succeeded in doing that.
For a more thorough discussion of the impacts of ITAR on space science, see National Research Council, Space Science and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations: A Workshop Summary, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2008.