The National Space Society vision is people living and working in space

01 October 1998
NSS Testimony by Pat Dasch, Submitted to Written Record for House Science Committee October 1, 1998 Hearing on "NASA at 40: What kind of space agency does America need for the 21st Century?"

Chairman Rohrabacher, Ranking Member Bart Gorton, and other members of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, thank you for the opportunity to present testimony on behalf of the National Space Society. On NASA's 40th anniversary it is appropriate to reassess the agency's goals and structure, and to look ahead to ensure it is best poised to meet the needs of the United States as we move into the next millennium.

The world has changed dramatically since NASA was created in July of 1958. The Cold War has ended. Space exploration no longer is the sole domain of the United States and Soviet Union, but a venture shared by many nations. Commercial space expenditures greatly exceed government investments. And the world is rapidly moving toward a global marketplace in which the manufacturing of high technology goods is becoming increasingly competitive and critical to the economic health of our nation.

Sputnik and the New Space Age

NASA is a product of both the Cold War and the advent of the Space Age. The United States established the agency to respond to the Soviet Union's burgeoning space program. But NASA also was created to open the space frontier. Officials realized the ability to launch spacecraft beyond Earth's atmosphere portended a new era of exploration and discovery, and they believed a civilian government agency was necessary to attract the support and coordinate the activities of the science community, which would lead the way.

On October 4, 1957, Russia placed into orbit a 183-pound satellite named Sputnik I. Less than a month later, it lofted a 1,120-pound payload to space, Sputnik II, carrying the dog, Laika. The United States reacted with alarm. According to Dr. Vannevar Bush, chairman of MIT, "it was a rude awakening." It generated "a great shock to the country to learn that in a field where we thought we were doing well, we have been exceeded by [Russia's] performance," he explained in testimony before Congress. U.S. Air Force Lt. General D. L. Putt bluntly declared, "If liberty, freedom, and justice are to prevail for all people, we cannot permit the dominance of space by those who say they will bury the United States." Lt. General James H. Doolittle warned "the United States cannot let space go by default to the Soviet Union."

Problems worsened on December 6, when a U.S. Vanguard rocket exploded seconds after launch from Cape Canaveral. On the world stage, the United States suffered an embarrassing debacle. Congress and the Eisenhower Administration scrambled to find out what had gone wrong with the nation's space program and to implement corrective actions.

"The immediate problem is obvious," explained Rep. McCormack, chairman of the House Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration. "We see another nation of great potentiality, militant and competitive, which has already made the first advances in the mastery of outer space. We cannot stand by and watch this nation make that mastery complete."

"With the launching of Sputniks I and II, and with the information at hand of Russia's strength, our supremacy and even our equality has been challenged," stated then Senator Lyndon Johnson, chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee inquiring into satellite and missile programs. "We must meet this challenge quickly and effectively in all its aspects."

While the Soviet Union's space program posed a daunting challenge to America's national security interests, considered of greater significance was the nation's transition to the Space Age. "There is something much bigger and more important in front of us than a few pieces of military hardware," Lyndon Johnson declared. Ballistic missiles, he argued, "do not hold the key of our future." Instead, he said it " is a new frontier -- a new age -- that is exciting and challenging." McCormack echoed this viewpoint, stating: "[W]e must enact legislation for the immediate future and must also lay the groundwork for a long-term effort of exploration and scientific development." Looking beyond the horizon, McCormack said, "we are beginning an era of discovery literally as far-reaching as the discovery of our own continent."

There was broad agreement among Washington officials that a new civilian agency should lead America's space program, and not the Department of Defense, which had let the Soviet Union eclipse our nation's space effort. The United States could have launched a satellite to space as much as a year earlier than Russia, but internal rivalry in the Pentagon scuttled the opportunity. In September of 1956, the Defense Department ordered a halt to the work on the Jupiter-C rocket. "After we had fired the first Jupiter-C over a range of 3,300 miles," Wernher von Braun testified before Congress, "we had hoped that this would persuade the Pentagon to give us permission to try a satellite launching, but this hope never materialized." Braun added that "specifically we were not permitted to fire into orbit."

Frederick L. Hovde, Chairman of the Army Scientific Advisory Panel, accused the Defense Department of mismanaging the space program. "The problem before the nation is not simply one of money, facilities, nor even men -- these we have in substantial amounts and that which we don't have can be provided," he said. "Whatever the failures may be, they are primarily those of management... which result in delays in decision making and confusion in the direction of our technological forces." The Vanguard program had fallen short according to John P. Hagen, director of the Vanguard Project at the Naval Research Laboratory, because of "too many administrative channels and levels to go through in order to get policy decisions and funds in the time limits with which we were dealing."

NASA's Birth
The main question before Congress and the Eisenhower Administration, as expressed by then Vice President Richard, was: "What type of government agency should have the primary responsibility in the development of our outer space program?" President Eisenhower strongly advocated the establishment of a civilian agency. "I have reached this conclusion," he explained, "because space exploration holds the promise of adding importantly to our knowledge of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe, and because it is of great importance to have the fullest cooperation of the scientific community at home and abroad in moving forward in the fields of space science and technology."

The House and Senate concurred and drafted bills to create the National Space and Aeronautics Administration. "The decision to enter into the Space Age is not one the United States can ignore or defer," a House report declared. "Our national survival requires it." Senator Clark called the creation of NASA "one of the most important activities which has confronted the government of the United States in the history of the republic."

The real purpose of the new agency, observed Senator Carroll, was "to draw into play or operation the scientific talent of the nation...." Maintaining the space program in the hands of the military would have limited the participation of civilian scientists. Lyndon Johnson agreed, adding, "we must draw upon every available source and use it to the fullest extent in order to make the great effort which needs to be made, and there must be coordination of the effort."

The mission of the new space agency was largely defined by the Eisenhower Administration. Its overarching goal is "the expansion of human knowledge of outer space and the use of space technology for scientific inquiry." Reflecting concern about the Soviet space program, NASA was also given the responsibility of preserving "the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology." A road map with specific projects was left undefined, in large part because officials were uncertain what the future might bring. "The sum of our understanding is not yet sufficient for us to comprehend how vast are the dimensions of our ignorance," a Senate report declared. "We have no frame of reference by which to visualize the design of tomorrow." Senator Saltonstall repeated this view during a speech on the Senate floor. "[I]t seems to me that there are no experts in the subject with which we are now concerned.... All that anyone can do is to speculate about space and its implications for man."

Congressman McCormack mused, "What we will learn from the Moon, and probably the outer planets, no man can rightly say. On the basis of what we already know, we can predict that the advances will be literally beyond our present understanding."

Getting Started
Military space science programs were placed under the management of the new space agency. It also absorbed a group of research institutes. Over the next three years, NASA launched nearly a dozen satellites as part of the Explorer program, and used Vanguard rockets to send science payloads beyond Earth orbit to measure solar radiation, the Earth's magnetic field, and micrometeorite impacts.

In the days that followed NASA's creation, officials approved the Mercury Project, a series of suborbital and orbital flights designed to put a human in space. "The chief justification for pushing Project Mercury on the present time scale," according to George Kistiakowsky, Eisenhower's science advisor, "lies in the political desire either to be the first nation to send a man into orbit, or at least to be a close second." Additionally, NASA initiated the Ranger program to photograph and map the Moon.

The Soviet Union continued to march ahead of the United States, launching the first rocket past the Moon and the first vehicle to the lunar surface. A Russian spacecraft in October of 1959 sent back the first pictures of the far side of the Moon. And on April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union placed the first human in space, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

President Kennedy was in office for less than three months when Gagarin made his historic flight. As part of the budget process, NASA had pleaded for a boost in spending "to catch up to the Soviet Union in space performance," but was turned down by Kennedy, and the agency received only a modest increase in funding. Shortly after Gagarin's flight, Kennedy revisited the issue. He talked with NASA Administrator James Webb about the possibility of a lunar landing and was told it would cost more than $20 billion (about $105 billion in 1998 dollars). Days later, America suffered yet another foreign policy failure when the U.S. withdrew support from anti-Castro forces in the Bay of Pigs invasion, increasing pressure on Kennedy to take decisive action to meet the threat posed by the Soviet Union. Kennedy asked then Vice President Lyndon Johnson if there was any "space program which promises results in which [America] could win." Johnson reported back that Russia already had "a rocket capability for putting a multi-manned laboratory into space." It had "crash-landed a rocket on the Moon" and had "the booster capability of making a soft landing on the Moon with a payload of instruments." About a human trip around the Moon or to the lunar surface, Johnson told Kennedy "neither the U.S. nor the USSR has such capability at this time, so far as we know." Given sufficient resources, Johnson predicted "the United States could conceivably be first in those two accomplishments by 1966 or 1967."

Kennedy returned to the U.S. Capitol for a second State of the Union address in May of 1961 to announce his response to the Soviet Union. He warned the nation that Russia was ahead of the U.S. in space technology, and said it would likely "exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes." As a consequence, he stated we "are required to make new efforts on our own." America could not guarantee it would one day be first in space, the President explained, but "we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last." Kennedy then announced the goal for America of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." He said, "No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space."

Beyond Apollo
In the mid 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson asked NASA to identify potential missions to follow the Apollo program. The space agency produced a report that contained few specifics on possible future projects. NASA discussed in broad terms the option of extending stays on the Moon to "30 days and possibly to as much as 90 days." Other potential long-range goals included "an Earth-orbiting space station, a lunar base with roving vehicle, and a planetary spacecraft."

Eight years after Kennedy's announcement, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted the American flag on the Moon's surface. The public cheered the victory and took pride in the historic accomplishment. Much had changed in the world since America embarked on the Moon landing. The United States and Soviet Union had amassed huge nuclear arsenals that placed into jeopardy each country's population centers. The Cuban Missile Crisis nearly triggered a nuclear exchange, revealing the dangers of Cold War brinkmanship. China broke ranks with the Soviet Union, revealing a division within the Communist Party, and the United States was bogged down in the Vietnam War, placing huge demands on the federal budget.

President Nixon began steering a new course in American foreign policy. He replaced space competition with the policy of detente. Nixon hoped to ease international tensions by engaging U.S. adversaries in a dialog. He opened relations with China and traveled to the Soviet Union. Rather than build bigger and more powerful rockets, he sought to negotiate treaties to put limits on ICBMs. This dramatic change in foreign policy is reflected in the handshake between America and Russia aboard the Apollo-Soyuz spacecraft in 1975.

Weeks after Nixon became president he appointed a Space Task Group, led by Vice President Spiro Agnew, to make recommendations on what to do after the Apollo program. In September of 1969, the task group issued a report with a series of options for America's space program for the following two decades. The task group urged the construction of a 50-person Earth-orbiting space station, an "Earth to orbit shuttle," a lunar space station, and a permanent Moon base "capable of long stay-time on the lunar surface with 3- to 6-man teams." Assuming these programs were approved and funded, the task group envisioned the "eventual manned expedition to Mars in the 1980's."

No Longer Unique
Throughout the 1960's, funding for NASA was given special consideration. At its peak, about five percent of the federal budget was directed to the space program. President Nixon said we must "define new goals [for NASA] which make sense for the seventies." He stated that "Our approach to space must continue to be bold, but it must also be balanced." To emphasize this point, he added, "We must recognize that many critical problems here on the planet make high priority demands on our attention and our resources."

Nixon said the United States should not allow NASA to stagnate. "But -- with the entire future and the entire universe before us -- we should not try to do everything at once," he declared. From here on out NASA would be treated in the same fashion as other government agencies. Its budget would be evaluated the same as other departments. The era of blank check spending was over.

Nixon proposed six long-term objectives for America's space program. He said the nation should continue to explore the Moon, and move "ahead with bold exploration of the planets and the universe." On a more practical level, he said the U.S. should "reduce substantially the cost of space operations." We "should seek to extend man's capability to live and work in space," he offered, "hasten and expand the practical applications of space technology," and "encourage greater international cooperation."

NASA struggled with the Nixon Administration to attain funding for its next major leap into space. Reflective of the space agency's change in status, Congress canceled the Apollo missions 18 through 20. The Space Task Group, at a minimum, wanted Nixon to begin development of both the Space Shuttle and space station. But the combined programs were unaffordable when balanced with the demands of other programs. The space station would have to wait. Finally Nixon, in January of 1972, announced his support for a $6.2 billion shuttle program. He touted the new vehicle, saying it would give America "routine access to space by sharply reducing costs in dollars and preparation of time."

NASA Stumbles
It took a decade for NASA to develop the partially reusable Space Shuttle. In April of 1981, John Young and Robert Crippen piloted the first shuttle to orbit, putting Americans back into space. At the end of the fourth flight, NASA declared the vehicle "operational." The shuttle began ferrying commercial and government satellites, research laboratories, and DOD payloads to orbit. NASA predicted that over the first five years it would conduct 116 missions, but only 32 flights actually occurred.

The prospect of lower space transportation costs energized private industry. Congress updated NASA's mission statement to require the agency to "seek and encourage to the maximum extent possible the fullest commercial use of space." It also created the Commercial Space Centers program to help businesses learn how to use space for commercial applications.

NASA pressed government leaders to take the next step into space. President Reagan in 1984 announced his support for an orbiting space station. Congress subsequently allocated $150 million for studies to determine its design and scope. The station's size, capability, and dependence on new technologies would all greatly influence its final cost.

In January of 1986, NASA's dreams began to unravel. Challenger exploded soon after liftoff, grounding the fleet for 32 months while investigators searched for the cause of the accident and engineers upgraded design weaknesses. Space science probes configured to fit in the shuttle's payload bay had to be redesigned or were delayed by years until the shuttle could again be made flightworthy. Compounding the space agency's troubles, problems arose in the space station project. Early configurations were too expensive, prompting Congress to intervene and force more affordable designs.

NASA's increasingly bureaucratic structure and management were blamed for its growing troubles. The once proud organization seemed to have lost its vision. The can-do agency was ridiculed by critics as the gang who couldn't shoot straight. As a means to re-energize NASA, President Bush announced a long-term vision for the agency. On the 25th anniversary of the Apollo landing on the Moon, Bush pledged America to return to the lunar surface to establish a permanent base, then to venture to Mars.

Problems at NASA went from bad to worse. News articles began to question the need for NASA, which critics dubbed a white collar jobs program. In 1992, major programs managed by the space agency were running on average 70 percent over budget. The Space Shuttle repeatedly did not get off the ground due to technical difficulties. Not until the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit did engineers learn it had a flawed mirror. And in 1993, the $1 billion Mars Observer was lost as it prepared for insertion into Mars orbit.

Faster, Better, Cheaper NASA
To get NASA back on its feet, President Bush replaced Administrator Richard Truly, a former astronaut, with Daniel S. Goldin, a top TRW executive with extensive managerial expertise. Goldin implemented a wide range of reforms, restructuring the agency from top to bottom. There are now about 7,000 fewer employees. For the most part -- the space station being the major exception -- programs are running on budget and the Space Shuttle is flying on time.

During the 1980s, NASA could afford to launch only a handful of planetary missions. Each spacecraft was running $1 billion or more. Goldin reorganized the Space Science Office, radically changing how it does business. In the place of large, complex, expensive probes, NASA began to design and build smaller, lower-cost spacecraft. Development schedules are limited, and many programs have funding caps. As an example of the new approach to space science, instead of replacing the lost Mars Observer with another large spacecraft, NASA instituted a decade long program in which it will launch ten smaller probes to the planet for the same amount of money.

Programs in the Human Space Flight Office were also reconfigured. The space station project was placed under the watchful eye of a single prime contractor. More than 100,000 pounds of hardware have been constructed and the launch of the first element is soon to commence -- assuming financial problems in Russia can be overcome.

Efforts are underway to replace the shuttle with a more cost-effective vehicle. Goldin initiated the X-33 program to determine the feasibility of a single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle (RLV). The operation of the shuttle is being turned over to private industry and plans are in the pipeline to do the same with the space station after its assembly.

Despite NASA's many successes, funding for the space agency has declined every year during the Clinton Administration, reflecting an erosion of political support. Although Goldin has nursed the space agency back to health, its future remains far from certain. After the assembly of the station, the next human space flight project has yet to be determined. National policy promulgated by President Clinton only commits NASA to completing the station, at which time the orbiting laboratory "will support future decisions on the feasibility and desirability of conducting further human exploration activities." Unlike the Space Science program, which has a 25-year road map, NASA has no clear, long-term plan for human exploration. Many in the space community advocate sending an expedition to Mars, but the cost remains prohibitively expensive. (One NASA study pegs the price over ten years at $160-$320 billion.) As an alternative, others in the space community are urging a more affordable option -- the establishment of a permanent base on the Moon.

A foreign policy crisis or comparable rationale does not exist as it did in the 1960s to compel government leaders to support a major boost in spending for our nation's space program. The Cold War tensions that spurred Americans to generously fund the space race are a thing of the past. So what is to be done? What should be NASA's future role and purpose? How can the agency provide adequate funding for the human spaceflight program while best advancing U.S. interests?

Redefining NASA
Forty years ago, NASA was established, in part, as a tool of foreign policy to demonstrate America's technological prowess. Mr. Goldin is reshaping NASA to respond to a new threat to our nation's technological leadership.

More and more countries are entering the high-tech marketplace and investing greater resources in science and technology. According to the National Science Foundation, "The global market for high-tech goods is growing at a faster rate than that for other manufactured goods, and economic activity in high-tech industries is driving national economic growth around the world." Between 1993-95, "high-tech industry output grew at over 8 percent per year -- more than twice the rate of growth for all other manufacturing industries."

Our future ability to compete and win in the global marketplace -- and sustain our high standard of living -- will be dependent upon our competitiveness, which is directly related to investments in science and technology. In 1980, the United States produced 26 percent of the world's high-tech exports. Our market share has steadily declined and in 1995, the latest year for which data are available, exports by U.S. high-tech industries slipped to 19.2 percent. In second place is Japan with 11.9 percent, the United Kingdom is third with 7.2 percent, and Germany is fourth with 6.9 percent.

NASA is an important contributor to our nation's technological base. Space poses unique challenges for engineers. In outer space, power and mass are limited. Hardware must be highly reliable and function in extreme temperatures. Engineering spacecraft for science and spaceflight missions forces engineers to generate unique solutions, which are then transferred to industry for commercial applications. Space also is a new tool for research. In a microgravity environment in space, physical processes react differently allowing scientists to gather data they cannot obtain on Earth that enable them to improve terrestrial products.

Although NASA's overall budget has declined each year since 1992, its contribution to research and development has increased slightly. To help maintain U.S. leadership in advanced technology, Mr. Goldin is restructuring NASA to support long-range, high-risk research and pushing the agency to get out of the business of operating space programs, such as the shuttle fleet, which consumes billions of dollars annually and contributes little to our competitiveness.

Increasingly NASA is working in partnership with academia and industry on joint, advanced technology projects to leverage resources and ensure the relevancy of research. The X-33 program points in the direction of how NASA wants to operate in the future. Instead of government building a half-scale test vehicle, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is responsible for the lion's share of the work with NASA providing engineering and financial support. Lockheed Martin is investing some $200 million of its own money. If all goes as planned, after flight tests in 1999, Lockheed Martin will be in a position to develop and fund the construction of a full-scale RLV, which NASA estimates could deliver payloads to space for about one-tenth as much as the Space Shuttle. The new vehicle would give the United States a competitive advantage in the launch of commercial payloads and open the door to lower-cost, RLV space transportation.

Commercial space investments now exceed those of the federal government. According to the Teal Group, some 1,700 satellites worldwide will be launched over the next decade, 70 percent of which will be commercial. The industry is expected to grow by at least 20 percent annually, generating 70,000 new high-tech jobs each year. Revenues by the year 2000 are predicted to exceed $100 billion annually.

It is no longer necessary for NASA to maintain a large government workforce to develop space technology. Private industry has matured, and can more efficiently and effectively manage many ongoing programs. NASA needs to step aside and let industry take the driver's seat. The space agency needs to assume a more supportive role in the same way it assists the aeronautics industry. NASA's goal should be to nourish industry to ensure it remains competitive by concentrating on the development of high-risk advanced technologies.

Unfortunately, there is resistance to change in parts of NASA. Many programs are cash cows that primarily benefit government workers. There are some in NASA who want to preserve the status quo and are thwarting Goldin's vision for NASA as an incubator of advanced technology to keep America competitive. The problem also extends to Congress where some members are more worried about protecting constituencies than promoting reforms in NASA. These reactions are understandable and mirror the problems the Defense Department encountered when it attempted to close surplus military bases. Only by creating an outside panel was it possible to overcome political pressures and introduce changes to restructure its military's bases.

The National Space Society recommends that a blue ribbon commission of outside experts be impaneled to assess public expectations of the space program for the new millennium, and to evaluate NASA's management of programs and to recommend ways to modernize the agency. The panel would be charged with finding additional ways to reduce costs, further integrate NASA's research centers with universities, and attract more industry support through pursuit of commercially relevant research and development.

As an example, efficiencies could be gained by tying each of NASA's research centers to state universities and boosting the involvement of industry. According to the National Science Foundation, "the academic sector is the largest performer of basic research, with expenditures totaling an estimated $16 billion in 1997." Industry is increasingly looking to academia to conduct long-term, high-risk research. "Industry officials have tapped this resource not only to realize the beneficial results of the research they sponsor," the NSF states, "but also to capitalize on opportunities to train future scientists and engineers, most of whom will one day be working in their laboratories."

NASA has tremendous talent and resources, and by integrating its facilities more closely with academia and industry, America's technological base could be strengthened. In space science, universities are now building spacecraft to explore the solar system. Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory designed and constructed the NEAR spacecraft, which was launched in February of 1996, and early next year will rendezvous with the asteroid Eros to conduct a year-long study of its composition and structure.

Creating stronger partnerships between NASA and universities would enhance science, reduce costs, and improve education. Students would benefit by gaining real-life experience in the design and construction of advanced technology projects. Industry would benefit from having a better educated workforce to compete in the marketplace. Universities would benefit by having opportunities to work on cutting-edge technology projects, keeping them the best in the world. And the taxpayers would benefit from reduced costs and enhancements in the nation's competitiveness.

Funding Space Exploration
There are many convincing reasons to mount a human expedition to Mars. Such a historic mission would enliven America's spirit. It would allow scientists to search for evidence of fossil life. It would promote math and science education, and spur new technological developments. The primary obstacle to such an expedition is the excessive cost. Given limitations in federal funding and intense competition among government agencies for resources, it is very unlikely tens of billions of dollars in additional funding can be carved out of the federal budget for a Mars mission. There is no national crisis to warrant taking money from other government programs or to raise taxes to pay the cost of the expedition.

The politics of the 1960s were unique. Even President Kennedy resisted a lunar landing until forced to do so by an international crisis. Without a comparable situation, spending the huge amount necessary for a government funded human mission to Mars cannot be politically justified. Since the Nixon Administration, Congress has authorized only two major spaceflight programs -- the development of the Space Shuttle (originally projected to cost $6.5 billion) and the International Space Station (originally projected to cost $8 billion). Until and unless a Mars mission can be accomplished at a reasonable price, it is going to be an uphill battle to gain the necessary political endorsements.

Given the sticker shock for a human expedition to Mars, a realistic strategy needs to be formulated to accommodate this barrier. NASA's options are limited. The agency can continue to slowly move forward, developing new technologies in the hope of making a human flight to Mars palatable to government officials. This go-it-alone strategy relies on government funding to succeed, and is thus a precarious approach. In the recent past, Congress and the Administration have not demonstrated any enthusiasm to boost NASA's budget, and to the contrary continue to cut spending, reducing resources available for research. Earlier this year, the Administration attempted to terminate all R&D programs related to a Mars mission. This trend could conceivably change, but is highly problematic given future demands for federal spending as baby boomers reach retirement age early in the next century.

An alternative option would be to lower the cost of human space expeditions by attracting commercial space investments and encouraging competition. Private industry is a natural ally of NASA that can tap the deep pockets of Wall Street. Industry will be willing to invest in space enterprises once technologies are validated and it is possible to generate a profit.

An example of how this circuitous strategy might be employed to lower space transportation expenses is the development of solar space power (SSP). A recent NASA study concludes SSP could be technically and economically viable within as little as ten years. Low-cost access to space is a prerequisite to making SSP a reality. Other critical technologies include low-cost, high-efficiency solar energy conversion, modular and self-assembling systems, and robust structures resistant to debris and micrometeorite impacts.

Building a prototype SSP facility would spur private investment in space transportation. It is necessary to get costs down to hundreds of dollars per pound. The same technology to accomplish this goal could be applied to human spaceflight missions. Once power is readily available in space and transportation costs are substantially lowered, space-based manufacturing becomes a real possibility. Space tourism would no longer be science fiction.

Unfortunately, many at NASA have a jaundiced view about industry. They see space business as a way to generate money to invest in human exploration, a means to replace funding cut by Congress and the Administration. But American businesses do not work for NASA; NASA should be working for American businesses -- to create new economic opportunities and new jobs.

NASA is investing minimal amounts to develop commercial space enterprises. It is spending only about $30 million annually to support commercial activities on the space station. For solar space power research, NASA had to be forced to invest a mere $12 million over three years. According to a recent report by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), "If NASA wants to accelerate commercialization, it should provide ongoing funding to approximately 30-35 [Commercial Space] Centers. The public funding required for this number of Centers ranges between $75 million and $100 million a year."

We have only scratched the surface on the possibilities for space commerce. What the future may bring, no one can know. NASA needs be more aggressive in laying the groundwork for commercial space enterprises. It needs to accelerate its role as the vanguard of high-risk technology development, and further integrate its resources with academia and industry. The key to the future is not more government, but private investment. It is time for NASA to step aside and allow private industry to take the lead in space operations. By following this new course, the agency can best strengthen America's economic health and open the way for sustained human exploration of outer space.

After funding the exploration of the Western frontier, the U.S. government invested public resources to build roads and canals to promote commerce. It subsidized the construction of railroads and the national highway system. It is incumbent upon NASA to now serve a similar role. In addition to exploring space, it needs to be concerned about building commercial links to Earth orbit. This responsibility may not be as exciting as exploration, but it is necessary for America's future.

On its 40th anniversary, NASA needs to look beyond Goldin's reforms to understand the global changes that are underway, and position itself to enhance our nation's economic strength by promoting advanced technologies and supporting the development of a commercial space infrastructure.


Join NSS button
Renew NSS button
Give NSS button

Facebook logo Twitter logo LinkedIn logo YouTube logo

ISDC 2014 Web site

Ad Astra Magazine

National Space Society Blog

New NSS Credit Card

NSS Book Reviews

To The Stars Newsletter

Bookmark and Share

NSS Logo NSS Contact Information   NSS Privacy Policy
Copyright 1998-2014, National Space Society

Updated Sat, Jul 26, 2008 at 21:26:17
Web Services by
Powered By CyberTeams