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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs D Committee Outreach and Public Responses INPUT SOLICITED FROM THE PUBLIC Over the course of the study, the committee maintained a public website1 to provide information on the study’s task, meeting dates, agendas, and other relevant items and to provide a means for public comments for the committee’s attention. In addition, comments from the public were solicited through an online survey that asked responders to provide their full names and e-mail address, and to consider the following: The committee invites you to share your views with the study committee by responding to the questionnaire below. Questions that you might consider when framing your input to the committee: What should be the rationale and goals for the civil space program? How can the civil space program address key national issues? For the purposes of this study, the U.S. civil space program encompasses activities from NASA, NOAA, FAA, and the commercial space sector. The questionnaire was announced on Facebook.com, NASAWatch.com,2 Slashdot.org,3 and Leonard David’s blog at space.com.4 The public was asked to keep replies to a maximum of 600 words. The committee also sought a range of 1 Available at http://www7.nationalacademies.org/ssb/rationale_goals_civil_space.html. 2 Available at http://www.nasawatch.com/archives/2009/01/nasa_seeks_publ.html. 3 Available at http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/01/07/2130209. 4 Available at http://www.space.com/news/090112-us-space-program-survey.html.
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs perspectives by inviting a number of outside experts to brief the committee on their views about future directions of the civil space program. See Appendix C for meeting agendas, which identify all briefings to the committee. Additionally, research associates from diverse disciplines at the National Academies were invited to share their thoughts during a meeting with the committee staff. The perspectives from the research associates, who tend to be younger early-career professionals with an interest in science and technology policy, were shared with the committee. THE RESPONSES In total, approximately 1,600 people responded to the committee’s survey, either officially through the survey form or as a comment on one of the websites previously mentioned, and the committee was impressed with the thought and care reflected in the responses. The committee regarded the responses as a useful gauge of community interest but thought that because the survey was informal, detailed analysis would most likely be misleading. Submissions almost uniformly reflected deep thought about and serious attention to the issues considered by the study. Responses rarely focused on a single aspect of space policy and instead tended to address many ideas. Many respondents expressed frustration with the current course of the program, but at the same time they expressed hope for the future of the U.S. space program. Some typical examples follow: The space shuttle has killed 14 brave astronauts in two awful accidents—where is the upside of that program? NASA should be research and exploration, not a poor implementation of Amtrak for Space. At the current rate, CNN will be reporting the 1st landing of astronauts on Mars simply because CNN is going to beat NASA to Mars with astronauts of their own. NASA has become counter-productive because it’s doing the same thing now it was doing forty years ago, which never quite motivates people to be inventive or innovative—just structured and regulatory. NASA should be almost exclusively focused on things like deep space exploration, manned interplanetary travel, etc., which don’t have an immediate commercial benefit. In my view, the only rational thing that I can conceive of is for the President to announce and redefine the goals of NASA.
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs There were four dominant themes, as follows: Climate change and Earth monitoring [“This generation is not racing to the moon, we are fighting for the very ability to continue to live as we do on this planet”]; Using NASA to stimulate and enable commercial efforts; Civil space as a necessary driver of the science and engineering fields; and Space colonization [“If there is a rationale for manned activities in space, I believe the only logical one is to enable self-sustaining human habitation off the Earth’s surface”]. Respondents were also concerned about Developing low-cost launch capabilities; protecting against near-Earth objects; Increasing education and public outreach; Using NASA to provide more jobs during this economic downturn [“Development of space-related infrastructure and industries can become the best tool to get America and the rest of the world out of the current economic recession”]; NASA investigating new energy sources, and the fact that NASA’s efforts often result in so-called “spin-off” technologies; and The future of human spaceflight [“a coherent and sustainable policy framework for NASA human spaceflight … is desperately needed”]. In general, the responses also strongly linked national pride with the space program and reflected the concept that space exploration was good for humanity. I believe that NASA in particular embodies an inalienable and indelible part of what it means to be an American. These are clearly difficult financial times, but shall we tell our children that we stopped being world leaders in science and exploration because it was too expensive to do so? Let us continue to explore, to discover, and to lead the world into the future the way America always has since the first shot of the American Revolution made us who we are. RESPONSES FROM PROFESSIONAL SOCIETIES In response to an invitation to provide comments on the study, the American Geological Institute (AGI), the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology (ASGSB), the National Space Society, and Space Florida submitted comments.
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs The AGI’s responses focused on Earth observations from space. It is absolutely critical that the U.S. Civil Space Program conduct global to local Earth observations from the surface to the atmosphere to space with direct sampling of the land, sea and air, plus observations from airplanes, balloons and satellites. It is equally essential that many of these observations be conducted over appropriate time scales without time gaps and that the government-led infrastructure be maintained, modernized or developed as needed. Computer modeling, data archiving and data accessibility are other key factors that make for a complete, competent and cost-effective program. The AGI expressed concern that the civil space program is “woefully underfunded” and mentioned its strong support for the NRC decadal survey Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond.5 The AGI concluded by noting In conclusion, the geoscience community is directly and indirectly reliant on the U.S. Civil Space Program for jobs, data, analysis, research, applications, training and teaching. There is no program in the U.S. or elsewhere that could replace the Civil Space Program and the past work of the program must be maintained in the public domain for its scientific, historical, cultural and societal value. The ASGSB considered the following issues to be important for committee consideration: restoring space biology’s identity as a budget item; restoring research funding for the International Space Station; restoring NASA funding for basic research; recognizing that decreased funding in space life sciences research has led to severed links in academia; and recognizing the need for basic animal and plant research in space. The ASGSB remarked Our society of ~350 professionals and students from universities, government, and industry represents the core community with a mission to work closely with NASA to create and disseminate knowledge about how living organisms respond to gravity and the spaceflight environment. This knowledge provides key insights into normal and abnormal cell function and organism physiology that cannot be observed using traditional experimental approaches on Earth, and serves as a venue for breakthrough biomedical and biotechnological discoveries to advance human exploration of space and improve quality of life for the general public. The National Space Society sent as its response a 16-page statement made by its executive director, George T. Whitesides,6 on May 7, 2008, before the Senate 5 National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007. 6 Mr. Whitesides was appointed to the Committee on the Rationale and Goals of the U.S. Civil Space Program, but resigned on November 18, 2008, due to a conflict that arose between his profes-
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics and Related Sciences of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The statement addresses several themes: space is linked to education, energy, and security; it is vital that the space program continue to support and nurture its industrial base; and international collaboration can strengthen economic and national security. The testimony recommended that human and robotic exploration be more explicitly linked to climate- and energy-related needs on Earth and that NASA strengthen its use of commercial space services. Mr. Whitesides’ testimony expressed concern about the looming gap in human spaceflight capability. The consequences of the gap, as seen during the transition between Apollo and Shuttle, are well known and ominous. Loss of funding translates into a loss of NASA’s most critical assets: the knowledge, corporate memory, and hands-on skills of its people. With a loss of jobs comes a loss of economic vitality in communities like Brevard County, Florida, and New Orleans, Louisiana, as people move away to look for jobs and take their money and families with them. Once those people are gone, restoring diminished capabilities and communities will not be as simple as issuing a call-back after a brief layoff. Space Florida’s input to the committee focused on optimizing the use of the International Space Station, leveraging partnerships between NASA and other government, commercial, and space advocacy organizations. Space Florida strongly supports the Constellation program and human space exploration, and they believe that the crisis in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education needs to be addressed immediately: Finally, all of the above will be difficult to achieve if America does not address its crisis in STEM education. We all know the numbers too well, e.g., both China and India producing many times over the number of new engineering graduates with STEM degrees than the U.S. does annually. If not addressed immediately, the consequences for the future competitiveness of the U.S. Space Program, and America’s technology innovation are at risk. While it is unrealistic to expect the Space Program to be the solution to this crisis, it can and should play an important role by encouraging more students to enter STEM related careers and technological innovation across the entire Civil Space enterprise (as opposed to reuse/modification of technology developed, in some cases, more that 40 years ago). sional circumstances and the work of the committee. The call for public input and the National Space Society’s response was well after Mr. Whitesides’ resignation.
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