01 October 1998
(Washington, DC) -- October 1 -- In testimony submitted to Congress today for the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics hearing on "NASA at 40: What kind of space agency does America need for the 21st Century", the National Space Society calls for a commission to assess public expectations of the space program for the new millennium, to evaluate NASA's management of programs, and to recommend ways to modernize the agency.
The membership of the National Space Society are concerned that the national space policy promulgated by President Clinton only commits NASA to completing the International Space 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 of space. The space community itself is divided about the priorities. Should we target a human mission to Mars or stage a return to the Moon, this time to establish an outpost and a permanent human presence? 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. NASA is an important contributor to our nationŠs technological base. Space poses unique challenges which result in unique and marketable solutions. But "where there is no vision, the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18). In 1980, the United States produced 26 percent of the world's high-tech exports. In 1995, the latest year for which data are available, exports by U.S. high-tech industries slipped to 19.2 percent. Members of the National Space Society believe that an aggressive, vision-driven space program is essential to restoring America's high-tech position in the world. Leadership in space translates into technological advantage and economic strength.
While considering the economic benefits of an aggressive space policy, we note that commercial space investments now exceed those of the federal government. 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. The space agency needs to assume a more supportive role in the same way it assists the aeronautics industry. NASAŠs goal should be to nourish industry to ensure it remains competitive by concentrating on the development of high-risk advanced technologies.
Creating stronger partnerships between NASA and universities would also 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.
After funding the exploration of the Western frontier, the U.S. government invested in 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, America needs a space agency that builds commercial links first to Earth orbit, and then beyond. This responsibility may not be as exciting as exploration, but it is necessary for America's future.
The National Space Society, which celebrates 25 years in 1999,
is an independent, nonprofit space advocacy organization
headquartered in Washington, DC. Its 20,000 members and 75 chapters
around the world actively promote a spacefaring civilization.
Information on NSS and space exploration is available at