1. Exploration as a long-term endeavor to be accomplished by means of a series of small steps—Many participants argued that having a clear, agreed-on, long-term goal, such as the human exploration of Mars, is essential for the future success of the human spaceflight program, but that it is premature to set a firm date for or cost of that goal. What is possible is a first assessment of what has to be accomplished, and the identification of intermediate, subsidiary goals that can be met in a series of smaller steps and would evolve at a pace that reflects a meaningful rate of learning.

  2. Synergy superseding the humans-versus-robots dichotomy—The ultimate achievement of a long-term goal for human exploration, numerous participants argued, should be to best employ both human and robotic assets and to have the space program move beyond complementarity and toward a synergy between robots and humans. Whatever the destination and whatever the specific means chosen, many participants stated that being guided by a principle of synergy between robots and humans provides the opportunity to explore the solar system in the most optimal manner.

  3. The long-term goal driving all implementation decisions—Participants in the 2003 workshop appeared to view the following activities as essential elements along the path to a goal for human exploration:

    • The continued robotic exploration of our solar system followed by the development of capable human-machine interfaces and teleoperators,

    • Research on the International Space Station focused on addressing the questions posed by human exploration away from low Earth orbit, and

    • Development of a space transportation system to replace the shuttle, all directed toward facilitating the eventual human exploration of some destination beyond low Earth orbit.

  1. Institutional concerns—The first six themes represented crosscutting concepts relevant to the nation’s future approach to civil space. The seventh theme collected the views offered by the 2003 workshop participants on needs and opportunities for successful implementation of future space policy in three areas:

    • Cross-institutional or cross-sector activities—for example, engaging in joint technology development, taking advantage of synergies, and improving planning and development—all of which were seen as dependent on the availability of a skilled industrial base;

    • NASA as the primary executive branch agency responsible for implementing space policy; and

    • The scientific community, one of NASA’s key constituents.


On January 14, 2004, President George W. Bush announced the new national Vision for Space Exploration, whose fundamental goal was “to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program” by means of “an integrated, long-term robotic and human exploration program with measurable milestones and executed on the basis of available resources, accumulated experience, and technology readiness.”3 The Vision called for a set of key activities in four areas, as follows:

  • Low Earth orbit. Use of the space shuttle would be focused on completing the assembly of the International Space Station (ISS), and then the shuttle would be retired by the end of the decade (i.e., 2010). Use of the ISS would be focused on supporting exploration goals “in a manner consistent with U.S. obligations” between the United States and other partners.

  • Beyond low Earth orbit. Lunar exploration activities would be designed to enable the exploration of Mars and beyond by means of robotic missions starting in 2008 and human missions no


National Aeronautics and Space Administration, The Vision for Space Exploration, NP-2004-01-334-HQ, NASA, Washington, D.C., 2004, pp. iii-iv.

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