The Report of the National Commission on Space
Part 3: Opening the Space Frontier: The Next 20 Years
A vigorous civilian space program will be an integral part of 21st-century America. This will extend productive industry into space, advance science, and maintain U.S. technological leadership in the face of increasingly skilled and ambitious rivals. Our program emphasizes the achievements and contributions of a forward-looking space program.
Our detailed program reaches out 20 years into the future, leading the way to U.S. leadership in space for 50 years. Financial realities will dictate the pace at which we proceed, but our mandate directed us to provide vision and policy recommendations rather than detailed budgets. Our proposals are technically reasonable and support increased private activities in space. They will return solid benefits to the Nation at every step-in the form of knowledge, productive technologies, economic returns, national security, motivation, inspiration, and international prestige. Bold leadership will be needed to pursue our visions, and national commitment to excellence will be essential for their achievement.
In developing our space agenda we recognized that the program must provide a real return to the American people. We have set three criteria which the program should meet:
- Each element and increment of the program must be set in the context of a long-tem plan. Fragmented efforts and uncertainties as to future goals will only dilute accomplishments and increase costs. Our program for the next 20 years is complementary to and in anticipation of the space efforts that should occur over the next 50 years. Each segment builds on the previous step.
- The program will be technically challenging, but feasible. Our program requires significant technical progress and stresses the importance of continuing research and technology advance. It does not depend on “spectacular” scientific or technological breakthroughs, although these may occur and our program would gain therefrom. Early emphasis on building a solid research and technology base in conjunction with careful advanced planning and analysis can effect major cost savings in the more expensive future operational phases; and
- The program will be adequately funded. We do not assume a sudden surge of resources in the years ahead. At the same time we recognize that world leadership in space will not be cheap, and that a reasonable fraction of national resources will be needed to maintain United States preeminence.
Our program assumes that the total NASA budget will grow modestly in constant dollars from 1987 to the end of the century, and that in the next century the civilian space program will remain below one-half percent of the Gross National Product (GNP), or half the peak percentage reached during the Apollo program in the 1960s.
We believe that the 20-year program summarized below can be carried out within these constraints and within the proposed schedule. In arriving at this conclusion we have drawn on NASA’s experience and the Commission’s best judgment. There is a distinct possibility that by taking advantage of the development of commercial activities in space, commercial launch and recovery services, innovative technologies and manufacturing methods, and mutually advantageous international arrangements, the cost to the U.S. taxpayer could be reduced, but the Commission has used conservative fiscal assumptions.
The Proposed 20-Year Program
The next 20 years should renew America’s commitment to leadership on the space frontier. Our plan assumes continuation of NASA’s present programs, recognizing funding constraints by assuming only modest budget increases, but we add over the next five years funds for the development of advanced technologies for cargo transport vehicles, passenger transport vehicles, and transfer vehicles. The Commission believes that NASA must significantly increase support of advanced research and technology. We propose a three-fold increase in this area, which in FY 1986 is funded at a nominal $158 million. In constant dollars, FY 1986 funding is approximately 10 percent of the research and technology funding levels in the peak Apollo years. NASA is still living on the investments made then, but cannot continue to do so if we are to maintain U.S. leadership in space.
Advanced planning for future systems must also be increased, like that now being done in the joint DOD/NASA study of advanced launch systems. With this sole exception, support of advanced planning and advanced technology development is far too low-only 10 percent of that in the Apollo days. This tiny budget should also be tripled. NASA should pursue the unknown and high/medium risk technology developments, while encouraging the private sector to move into routine standardized operations. Between 1990 and the year 2005, our program calls for significant advances toward each of the long-term goals outlined above, including:
- Understanding the Universe. Our cost projections require a significant increase in space science and applications funding over the next 20 years. During this period, bold space science programs would be initiated to ensure further major advances and extend our understanding of the Universe. This would provide the data needed for sound decisions in the development of programs to enable the United States within 50 years to establish a continuous presence on the Moon and Mars, and to utilize the resources of the Moon, Mars, Phobos, and asteroids in pioneering the inner Solar System.
- Exploring, Prospecting, and Settling the Solar System. Achieving these goals requires the development of the space systems needed for exploring and settling the Moon and sustained operations on Mars and Phobos. We also see a clear need for better scientific data in conjunction with a major research and technology effort directed at developing robotic systems and in designing biospheres and extraction and manufacturing processes for eventual use of the Moon, Mars, or elsewhere in space.
- Space Enterprise. Our program calls for aggressive actions over the next 20 years, starting immediately, to bring about a major expansion of commercial activity in space and related support functions. We believe that private industry should play an increasing role in the next family of space transportation vehicles, both automated and piloted. Properly challenging America’s free enterprise system is a key element in reducing the cost of Opening the Space Frontier. We need to identify the economic opportunities and the role that Government should play in commercializing appropriate space activities.
- Space Systems to Open the Space Frontier. The Commission has identified three major space transport systems and three space facilities that require completion of development efforts during the next 20 years. These systems will provide the basic infrastructure to enable the United States to achieve the 21st-century goals that the Commission recommends. The three major space transport systems required are:
- Cargo transport vehicles;
- Passenger transport vehicles; and
- Transfer vehicles for round-trip travel beyond low Earth orbit.
The Space Station should be maintained on schedule for initial operation in 1994. The next three critical space facilities required are:
- Earth Spaceport;
- Variable-Gravity Research Facility; and
- Lunar Surface Outpost
These facilities will be evolutionary versions of the Space Station that President Reagan has directed be operational by 1994. A geostationary orbit (GEO) space station is not included in our program; it is reasonable to believe that by the time it would be required, American industry can construct this with private financing and NASA’s technical assistance. A GEO space station is an excellent candidate for the first major commercial services venture in space. An orbital maneuvering vehicle (a “space harbor tug”) will be required in the early 1990s, and is already being developed by NASA. The Variable-Gravity, Research Facility is required within the next 20 years in order to understand the required artificial gravity levels necessary for long-duration flights well in advance of human travel to Mars. As the program continues to evolve during the 21st century, there will be an evolutionary growth of the initial Space Station into the first spaceport. Future spaceports will be deployed beyond Earth orbit at the Ll Libration Point, in lunar orbit, and eventually in orbit around Mars. Outposts will be located as needed on the surface of the Moon and Mars and its moons.
Science has benefited dramatically from our entry into space. Before the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the study of natural phenomena-including those occurring in space—was almost completely dependent upon measurements made on the surface of Earth or within its atmosphere. Today, spacecraft range from near Earth orbit to the realm of the outer planets. This enables scientists to monitor Earth’s continents, oceans, and atmosphere on a global basis; its space environment from the outer reaches of its atmosphere to beyond the Moon; radiations from the Sun, planets, stars, and galaxies across the entire electromagnetic spectrum; and the planets and other bodies of the Solar System from dose at hand. Scores of innovative experiments in physics, chemistry, and the life sciences have been conducted in the microgravity and near-vacuum conditions available aboard spacecraft. Thousands of bright young Americans, motivated by the excitement inherent in space research and often by the desire to fly in space themselves, have elected to pursue scientific careers. As a result of scientific activities in space, our quest to understand the Universe and the laws that govern it, as well as the processes that gave rise to the Solar System, Earth, and life, is vigorously expanding.
We have previously detailed our recommendations for advancing space science. Implementing those recommendations requires certain generic activities to support the various disciplines involved. For example, all elements of our recommended program are completely dependent upon the active involvement of creative scientists whose productivity requires generic types of support that apply to every subdiscipline of space science. Supporting research and technology funds are essential for maintaining laboratory facilities and providing a creative atmosphere in which new ideas can be tested.
Our space program has stimulated the development of new branches of science that barely existed before. As a result, the Nation now possesses a cadre of highly-trained scientists working in space science, almost all of whom interact with the space program to obtain meaningful data. They constitute a precious national resource that should be nurtured through continuing new opportunities for research. Government, industry, and academic scientists all play important roles in the space science program. Government scientists have a special responsibility to work with spacecraft designers and operations staffs to assure that the scientific objectives of a mission are attainable. Academic scientists conceive of many of the experiments carried out in space, and in the course of their research are responsible for training the young scientists who will be the backbone of the future program.
Because many space science programs take 5 to 10 years from inception to flight status, it is difficult for students to participate meaningfully in such projects during their relatively short period of research training. Opportunities to participate in projects of comparatively small scope, such as Spartan-class missions on the space shuttle, can ease these problems. On a larger scale, the development of the Space Station and its follow-on facilities will, for the first time, permit national space laboratories. Exciting research in physics, chemistry, and the life sciences will be carried out there.
For example, because certain physical and chemical processes occur differently under the microgravity conditions in Earth orbit than they do on Earth’s surface, study of such processes could result in important scientific discoveries, some of which could later have substantial commercial applications. And as explained in the section Advancing Science in Part I, biological research on plants, animals, and humans under microgravity conditions is essential if we are to carry out the program of exploration and enterprise described in this report. It follows that state-of-the-art laboratory facilities must be available to carry out experiments in Earth orbit.
These facilities should have adequate volume and power available, with the capability to simulate various levels of artificial gravity. They should be accessible to technicians and scientists whose normal occupation is carrying out experiments in ground-based laboratories. They also should be equipped with state-of-the-art computational facilities for communicating with the ground and for storing and analyzing data. In some cases, it may be required to operate space experiments under the direct control of scientists on the ground. Because the leaders in the scientific fields involved are already heavily engaged in ground-based research, it is essential that the time and effort that they must expend to apply for laboratory space in Earth orbit, to conduct their experiments, and to obtain the experimental data in the form suitable for extended analysis on the ground be reduced to a minimum.
To achieve this goal, efforts should be directed not only to the optimum design of the physical facilities needed, but also to administrative and budgetary mechanisms that will provide ready access to laboratory facilities in space. Recognizing the considerable success the Nation has achieved in providing large experimental facilities for diverse user communities such as particle physics and astronomy, the Commission recommends that: An administrative entity be established, known as the National Space Laboratory, to be responsible for planning the space-based laboratory facilities required by various scientific communities, for selecting from applicants the scientists who are to be granted laboratory time, and for advising the managers of the relevant space-based facilities so as to maximize scientific productivity.
There is no reason that all the research conducted in space laboratory facilities should be funded by NASA. The Commission therefore recommends that: The agencies that now fund research in related areas on the ground, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) be empowered to fund research coordinated by the National Space Laboratory as part of their normal programs; other sources of funding, such as universities and industry, should also be encouraged.
The study of Earth and its environment is now funded by a number of different agencies of the Government, including NASA, NSF, DOE, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), United States Geological Survey (USGS), and others. As pointed out earlier, the time has come for a comprehensive study of planet Earth, including its interior, land surfaces, oceans, polar ice caps, and atmosphere. This offers the potential for an understanding of the processes which alter Earth on timescales varying from days to millions of years. Achieving the goals of such a global study requires the use of on-site measuring devices, remote sensing satellites, and computational facilities that can process an unprecedented flow of data. This global study will require the resources of the agencies now involved in studying Earth. We therefore recommend that: The space-related activities of NASA, NSF, DOE, NOAA, USGS, and other agencies must be coordinated at both the programmatic and budgetary levels, beginning with an Earth-observing system now in early stages of planning.
Other specific areas need to be addressed to accomplish our space science goals. Advances in detector technology can also vastly improve the ability to observe Earth and its environment, the Sun and planets, and remote stars and galaxies, so it is important to stress detector development in every area.
Often overlooked in the drive to develop more effective systems for gathering and analyzing data is the fact that theoretical work is essential to advance understanding and provide the conceptual framework needed to make the data intelligible. Rapid advances in supercomputers enable theorists to create much more sophisticated models and to test their models against the data rapidly and in detail. Because computational facilities are also such an important part of data gathering, storage, and analysis, funding should be provided to maintain computer facilities at a state-of-the-art level. An emerging need is for the conduct of space experiments under direct control of ground-based scientists using computer links to spacecraft. Well-planned development of this capability, especially in the context of the Space Station, has the potential to greatly improve productivity. We therefore recommend that: Special emphasis be placed upon assuring that space scientists have available state-of-the-art computational facilities for communication, storage, analysis, and theoretical modeling of data.
In the Presidential Commercial Space Policy Directive of July 1984, the Reagan Administration expressed its desire to support commercial development of space. Legislation alone is insufficient to bring about that goal, however; specific actions are required. These should be aimed at removing present barriers to commercialization (such as Government competition), reducing the cost of space operations, and encouraging the future provision of launch services by the private sector. We believe that it is in the national interest to press forward with the commercialization of space, and urge the Administration, the Congress, and all involved Government agencies to cooperate with the private sector in removing perceived barriers.
In response to the 1984 Presidential directive, NASA established an Office of Commercial Programs. Despite attempts by this office to foster industrial initiative in carrying out in space research in materials processing, there have been only a few companies that have done so. Prominent among these is the McDonnell Douglas Company’s decision to proceed with the development and operation of an electrophoresis experiment for test flight on the shuttle aimed at producing pharmaceutical products. NASA and university scientists are also carrying out a modest program in materials handling research using drop tubes, sounding rockets, and aircraft to gain a few seconds or minutes of microgravity; this work may spark future commercial interest. The 3M Corporation has expressed interest in flying on as many as 72 shuttle flights in order to obtain sufficient research results to develop new “Made in Space” products. They have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with NASA regarding these flights, paralleling the MOUs of other corporations. Under these agreements NASA shares in the research findings, but agrees not to publish the data.
Another instrument used by NASA to promote private sector space activities is the joint Endeavor Agreement UEA). This allows a company to make a certain number of flights free of charge to ascertain whether a new business can be viable. The JEA has value because it enables small companies, which otherwise could not afford the costs involved, to carry out research in space. NASA carefully controls the number and type of these agreements and receives access to the data obtained. Should the company not continue with the processes within a specified time, NASA can use the information for its own purposes.
The joint Endeavor Agreement is a powerful means of attracting research opportunities for space that otherwise would probably not be carried out. Unfortunately, no funding has been provided for JEAs. Therefore NASA’s departments have been forced into a “zero-sum game,” in which every successful JEA reduces their budgets accordingly. As a result, the Commission has found that some small start-up companies have been kept waiting for as long as a year. Since many of these companies are existing on venture capital, they do not have the resources to wait for a decision indefinitely. The Commission reminds NASA of its responsibility under the Presidential directive to assist companies seeking commercial opportunities in space, and suggests that JEAs be funded explicitly rather than charged to NASA departmental funds.
Developing National Space Policy
At the present time, responsibility for space policy within the Administration rests primarily with the Senior Interagency Group (Space). Referred to as “SIG-SPACE,” this council is made up of representatives from the major Government agencies dealing with space matters, including NASA, the Departments of Defense, Commerce, State, Transportation, and Office of Science and Technology Policy. This group is responsible to the National Security Council, which has the power of veto over its decisions.
In addition to NASA, the Departments of Commerce and Transportation have significant roles in space commercialization. The Interagency Working Group on the commercial use of space was established under the President’s National Space Strategy, issued in August 1984. The Department of Commerce chairs the working group, with NASA as Vice Chair. The group is responsible to the Economic Policy Council for the planning and initiation of the commercial development of space. The Department of Transportation has been directly involved in the space field since the Secretary of Transportation—acting on Executive Order 12435—established the Office of Commercial Space Transportation early in 1984. The new Office was given priority by being located within the Secretary’s office. Under the Commercial Space Launch Act, enacted in October 1984, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation is responsible for encouraging, promoting, and facilitating commercial operation of expendable launch vehicles. The Office is also responsible for streamlining regulatory procedures that face the private operator of these vehicles, and for issuing licenses for commercial launches and launch sites to ensure compliance with international obligations and to protect the public health, safety of property and national security, and foreign policy interests. The Office and its licensing process are geared to fulfill two operational elements: Mission review and safety review.
The new Office takes this mandate seriously and his become an advocate within the Government for this constituency. This Office should play a vital role in ensuring that private operators have a fair opportunity to build and operate new launch vehicles for the Nation’s benefit.
The Department of Transportation is responsibly carrying out its critical duties, and the Commission recommends that: Space transportation regulatory and certification functions continue to receive high-level support.
A National Aeronautics and Space Council
The new national space goals and the strategies to achieve them presented in this report will clearly involve many Government agencies and departments, the private sector, academic institutions, and international partnerships and treaties. To implement the strategies and subsequent plans in an effective and timely manner, a full-time space council at the Presidential level could make a major contribution to policy development and interagency coordination.
Reestablishment of a National Aeronautics and Space Council (as provided for by Congress in the NASA Act) could contribute professional advice on space policy issues, help ensure prompt and effective cooperation among Government agencies and departments, encourage an appropriate level of private sector involvement, make available high-level policy guidance on international cooperation and space treaties, and provide oversight on the overall progress of America’s space programs.
The need for such a Council is further heightened at this time by the concurrence of five recent and important events which impact both near-term and long-term aeronautics and space programs. These are:
- The submission of our long-range recommendations to the President and to the Congress, calling for new national space goals and the strategies to achieve them;
- The President’s initiation of a National Aero-Space Plane program, which has the potential to contribute to national security, next-generation commercial aircraft, and lower-cost transport to Earth orbit;
- Presidentially-directed studies now assessing near-term and long-term national launch needs. These studies will influence both the diversity and the extent of our launch capabilities into the next century;
- The development phase of the Space Station, planned to begin this year. The extent of its future role as a spaceport and in cooperative international programs is still evolving; and
- The Strategic Defense Initiative, a national defense program. SDI will have a growing, but as yet undetermined, impact on future space operations.
Based on the foregoing considerations, the Commission recommends that: The President re-establish a small National Aeronautics and Space Council in the White House based on the NASA Act.
Since the early days of the Space Age, the United States has pursued a cooperative international approach to its programs and to the development of a legal framework for outer space. The United States has entered into over 1,000 agreements with 100 countries for cooperative endeavors in space. America led the way in drafting the principles that led in 1967 to the Outer Space Treaty (See sidebar on Outer Space Agreements), and had earlier played a leading role in the formation of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). The United States also initiated the formation of the International Telecommunication Satellite Organization (INTELSAT), and is an active participant in the International Maritime Satellite Organization (INMARSAT). The United States is a leader in the exchange of data from weather satellites and has encouraged and assisted many other nations in using its Landsat remote sensing system. We also have invited international participation in a large number of scientific projects in space, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the Galileo probe to Jupiter, the Infrared Astronomy Satellite, and many others.
In 1975, the United States and the Soviet Union conducted the first international space mission involving human crews, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Since then, the United States and the Soviet Union have carried crew members from 16 other nations on their spacecraft, including Bulgaria, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Cuba, Federal Republic of Germany, France, German Democratic Republic, Hungary, India, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. Thus people of many nationalities have observed our planet from the new perspective of space.
In 1984, the United States launched the largest cooperative international space project in history: a permanently occupied international space station. Our European, Japanese, and Canadian partners may contribute one-third of the cost, and key pieces of technology. The station is designed to grow and evolve, and is expected to remain in operation for 30 years. This enterprise is establishing an impressive new model for international cooperation in space.
Growing Competition in Space
For the first two decades of the Space Age, space exploration and utilization were conducted almost entirely by the United States and the Soviet Union. Space power is rapidly proliferating now as more and more nations achieve significant space capabilities; China, India, Japan, and the European Space Agency have the ability to launch satellites. Several European countries, especially France and Germany, have developed substantial aerospace industries to build launch vehicles, satellites, and the Spacelab module that flies in the cargo bay of our space shuttle. Canada, although it has no national launch capability, has a strong aerospace industry that has built communications satellites and the “robot arm” for the space shuttle. India has its own small launch vehicle and is developing its own remote sensing and communications satellites and more capable launch vehicles. Brazil is developing the capability to build and launch satellites by the end of this decade. Indonesia was the first of the less developed countries to establish its own domestic satellite communication system.
Although America’s major political and exploratory competitor remains the Soviet Union, our major commercial competitors in space will be Western Europe and Japan. The Soviets and Chinese are offering competitive launch services, and the Europeans already are operating the Ariane, which competes with the U.S. space shuttle for launching satellites. More capable versions of these systems are being developed, and Japan intends to have a similar launch vehicle in the 1990s. The French are now operating a remote sensing satellite system called SPOT, which will compete with the U.S. Landsat system. The Soviets, Germans, and Japanese have shown considerable interest in materials processing and energy supply from space, which will offer future competition for U.S. firms.
The United States will need to move forward steadily to meet these competitive challenges. In the non-commercial field, this will require sustained Government support for technology development and for exploratory and long-range developmental missions. In the commercial field, the United States will want to ensure that American firms are able to compete effectively in the provision of space-related products and services.
International cooperation can help America realize its goals in space sooner and less expensively. Cooperation can also help us create the kind of international environment most conducive to an expansive space program conducted in accordance with American values. We greatly benefit from attracting the world’s best minds to participate in our programs (See sidebar on International Space Year). A good example is in the field of global remote sensing. By cooperating with more than 100 other nations in remote sensing systems, we have gained broad acceptance of the principle of freedom to observe Earth from space. Proving that this can be useful to all nations is our most effective policy. This has led to general acceptance of the U.S. position in international forums that it will not accept limitations on the rights of all nations to acquire data from space.
We solidly endorse American cooperation with other nations in selected space projects when such projects are mutually beneficial and technologically sound. For a few projects of lasting significance, we believe that the United States should lead coalitions of participating nations, as it did with INTELSAT and is now doing with the Space Station. In our approach to international cooperation, we must recognize differences among nations in terms of their technological capabilities. We must also recognize political realities, and distinctions between friends, neutrals, rivals, and adversaries. We recommend somewhat different approaches for three categories of nations: (1) the Soviet Union and its allies; (2) developed countries friendly to the United States; and (3) less developed countries.
The Soviet Union
The Soviet Union placed the first satellite, the first animal, the first man, and the first woman in space; launched the first space station (and now has its seventh success station in orbit); returned the first pictures from the far side of the Moon and the first pictures from the surface of another planet (Venus). Clearly, the Soviets intend to expand their presence in low Earth orbit and then move out with piloted missions to Mars and possibly the Moon. The core of a large, new modular station was launched early in 1986. Two new rockets are reported to be in development, one the equivalent of the giant Saturn V that carried American astronauts to the Moon. They also appear to be developing their own version of a space shuttle.
The Soviets have repeatedly alluded to the connection between their long-duration flights aboard the Salyut space stations (up to 237 days) and the need to obtain data about human physiological and psychological tolerance to weightlessness in case a decision is made to go to Mars. Although there are conflicting accounts by high-ranking Soviet scientists as to when such a mission might be attempted (some have said in the near future, others have indicated it will not be until after the turn of the century), it seems clear that they will visit Mars within the next 50 years.
In 1967, the Soviets created an organization called Interkosmos to facilitate cooperation with other countries; members include Bulgaria, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, and Vietnam. The Interkosmos organization has also been used as a mechanism for cooperating with other countries and organizations, including the United States, India, France, Sweden, Austria, Finland, and the European Space Agency.
Cooperation with the Soviet Union in space holds promise because of the substantial space capabilities it already possesses, but some cautionary principles should be observed. In addition to satisfying the general criteria for cooperative international space projects, U.S. Soviet projects should be specifically designed to avoid ill-advised technology transfer, and to draw on the unique capabilities of each nation where possible. Coordinated parallel missions, rather than joint ones, will often provide the most feasible approach. The Commission recommends that: Within these guidelines, selective cooperation should be actively sought with the Soviet Union.
A good example of a possible cooperative project is the coordinated robotic exploration of Mars. The Soviets will carry out a 1988 automated mission to the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos with some international participation (including U.S. scientists), and the United States is planning to undertake a 1990 Mars polar orbiting mission. Exchanges of plans and data between these missions could be mutually beneficial.
On a more ambitious scale, it has been suggested that the United States send an automated surface rover to Mars while the Soviet Union sends a lander capable of returning samples of Martian material to Earth. The U.S. rover would roam the surface of the planet collecting a wide variety of documented samples, then bring them to the Soviet spacecraft for return to Earth. If either mission failed, or if either nation withdrew, the other nation would still have an extremely worthwhile project, but a successful joint U.S.-U.S.S.R. project would multiply the scientific rewards many times.
Friendly Developed Countries
Formed in 1975 by merging the European Launcher Development Organization and the European Space Research Organization, the European Space Agency (ESA) is a group of 11 European countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Austria and Norway will exchange their associate status for full membership in ESA next year. All countries contribute to, the organization’s general operating budget which supports basic space activities. Special projects, such as the development of the Ariane launch vehicle, are selected separately and no country is forced to participate.
In addition to cooperating through ESA, several European countries have strong national space programs, especially France, Germany, Britain, and Italy, For example, France is the primary builder of the Ariane, and has also entered the Earth remote sensing business with the SPOT satellite. Germany, which was the prime developer of Spacelab for the shuttle, is very active in using that vehicle for research on materials processing in space, and is the lead country in the development of the Columbus space station module. Italy is one of the world’s leaders in technology for communications satellites operating at very high frequencies (called the Ka band at 30/20 gigaHertz). As can be seen, these national space programs, combined with the ESA activities, make Europe a growing force in space.
The Japanese space program was founded in cooperation with the United States. Their N launch vehicle is manufactured from a U.S. design (the McDonnell Douglas Delta vehicle) and U.S. industry has built most of the satellites launched by the Japanese for meteorology and communications. While they are now trying to increase the percentage of parts in these satellites that are built in Japan, it seems clear that they will continue to want to cooperate with the United States. Japan is now building its own launch vehicle designated the H, which will use the higher efficiency liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen fuels. The initial version of this vehicle will not have much lift capability, but it is probably the forerunner to larger capacity vehicles which could compete with other nations’ systems.
Our relationships with Western Europe, Japan, Canada, and other friendly developed nations have additional dimensions. The growing space technology and science capabilities of these countries make them potentially valuable partners in a wide variety of space endeavors. At the same time we can expect them also to become vigorous commercial competitors. The Space Station project will require us to find the proper balance between these two considerations, and thereby establish a model for handling competitive and cooperative relationships. There will be many future opportunities for cooperation in space exploration and science missions, drawing on the knowledge and skills of these nations. The Commission recommends that: Continued cooperative space ventures be pursued vigorously with friendly developed countries, with due regard for reciprocity and the protection of U.S. commercial interests.
Less Developed Countries
The United States has a long history of cooperating with India in space activities. The 1975-76 SITE project, which involved Indian use of an American satellite for broadcasting educational television programs to 5,000 remote communities, is still cited as one of the most successful cooperative space programs in NASA’s history. The success of this project was partially responsible for the Indian decision to procure its own satellite system, called INSAT, for communications and meteorology. These satellites are built by American firms to Indian specifications, and are launched by the United States.
A little-known fact outside the space community is that the Peoples Republic of China has been launching satellites since 1970. In 1984, China not only introduced a launch vehicle whose third stage uses high efficiency cryogenic fuels (liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen), but also placed a communications satellite in geostationary orbit. These two feats were worthy of a major space power (the Soviets, for example, still do not have a launch vehicle that uses liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen). The rocket, called the Long March 3, is now being marketed internationally by the Chinese, along with the less capable Long March 2; Sweden will be the first customer.
In the early 1980s, the Chinese announced that they had selected several individuals as astronaut-trainees, although they later disbanded the group, stating that a piloted spaceflight capability was not economically feasible at that time. Their interest in launching a person into space continues, however, and they have discussed with NASA the possibility of having a Chinese payload specialist fly on a future U.S. space shuttle mission.
Though India, China, and Brazil are potential space powers, most less developed countries do not now have the financial, technological, or industrial resources to become significant partners in major space enterprises. They can, however, benefit significantly from the application of space technologies such as satellite communications, remote sensing, and navigation, thus fostering economic growth, education, and institution-building. Cooperating with less developed nations in these fields can also advance broad U.S. foreign policy interests, provided that care is taken to prevent pass-through of sensitive information to third parties. We therefore recommend that: The United States creatively seek broad opportunities to apply appropriate space technologies to meet the needs of less developed countries.
The Future International Environment
America’s space activities, as well as our cooperative ventures with others, are influenced by existing international institutions and agreements. The United States is party to four basic treaties concerning space that were negotiated within the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space; it has not ratified a fifth, known informally as the “Moon Treaty.” The United States also participates in COPUOS discussions of other issues and in specialized international organizations related to the uses of space, notably the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), INTELSAT, and INMARSAT. In addition, Americans participate in international non-governmental organizations such as the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) and the International Astronautical Federation.
The open, cooperative international environment that the United States seeks to establish for space activity is threatened by a variety of pressures. Some international institutions, notably the ITU and United Nations organs such as the General Assembly and COPUOS, have become increasingly politicized. The one nation/one vote principle gives the controlling majority to countries that have no current capability for space exploration. The system of bloc politics that prevails in the United Nations results in extraneous issues such as the Arab/ Israeli dispute, intra-African differences, and East/West rivalry intruding into space policy decisions. The strength of the Soviet Union in the United Nations (via its client states) gives it more influence on U.N. decisions than is enjoyed by the United States and other democracies. The Outer Space Affairs Division of the United Nations, which services COPUOS, suffers from politicization and bureaucratization, and includes no American representation at the professional level. These facts mean that actions by U.N. bodies can serve to hold back the exploration and utilization of space, particularly by the United States. The Commission therefore recommends that: The United States avoid accepting international arrangements that give broad jurisdiction over American activities in space to international bodies in which adversaries have undue influence or in which decisions will be made by majorities with little current competence in the space field. In addition, we recommend against U.S. support for any global organization that purports to regulate broadly the utilization of outer space.
There have been and continue to be pressures from less developed countries for guaranteed equitable access to the use of space and its resources. This has been particularly visible in meetings of the International Telecommunication Union devoted to allocating geostationary orbital positions and radio frequencies for commmunication satellites. Many less developed countries have pressed for long-term rigid planning to assure their access, while the United States has argued for a more flexible approach. We recommend that: The United States maintain its positions favoring flexible rules for access to geostationary orbital positions and radio frequencies, and in support of the free gathering and dissemination of data to and from all countries. At the same time we urge NASA and the communications satellite industry to advance critical technologies that can expand access to orbit for all users, while minimizing electronic or other interference between satellites.
Another example of pressures on the free use of space is the Moon Treaty negotiated in the United Nations, which would impose a generally more restrictive legal regime on the uses of space than existing agreements. In particular, the Treaty’s provisions for the use of natural resources on other celestial bodies suggest a collectivized international regime analogous to the seabed mining regime in the Law of the Sea Treaty. Such a regime could seriously inhibit American enterprise in space. We therefore recommend that: The United States not become a party to the Moon Treaty.
Our Proposed Approach
In addressing the evolving international legal and institutional environment for outer space, the United States should support agreements that facilitate the constructive uses of outer space, and oppose those that restrict them. On Earth, American values flourish best under a regime of openness, without needless rules and regulations that limit freedom, inhibit diversity, and hamper innovation. The same is true in space. Our view is that the existing United Nations treaties that we have ratified provide a sufficient legal framework for the future uses of space.
We recognize that there may be specific areas of concern where additional, narrowly focused agreements may be useful. Examples might include space rescue and standardized docking mechanisms, nuclear reactor safety, and the limitation of space debris. In some cases these may best be negotiated bilaterally and multinationally rather than through the United Nations.
The program we have proposed in this report will involve the international community, and can bring significant benefits to all nations in science, applications, access to space, the development of vast additional resources, and the creation of new human communities beyond Earth. Above all, it will open new options for humanity, eroding the notion that our future is limited and that international competition must be a “zero-sum game” in which one country’s gain is another’s loss.
We have recommended a global study of planet Earth with full international participation. Simultaneous coverage of Earth from satellites may evolve into an open global information system, in which all participating nations might operate their own ground stations. Scientists from all nations could thus participate freely in the analysis of global data. The results would lay the groundwork for an international system to observe and predict our terrestrial environment with ever-increasing accuracy, to the great benefit of all. Continuous observation of Earth from space could promote cooperative international management of the biosphere in which we all five.
Our suggested approach to technology development and lowering the cost of access to space will facilitate space applications of benefit to everyone. For most nations, space systems are still relatively expensive, so more capable satellites and cheaper launch services can bring space applications like communications satellites and remote sensing within the reach of developing countries. This would increase the demand for space transportation to the benefit of launch vehicle enterprises. The example that our program will set by lowering launch costs and opening access to space will stimulate other countries to pursue similar approaches, and thereby broaden entrance to space for all nations.
Space enterprises that draw on the mineral and energy resources of the Solar System will stimulate the growth of the human economy, to the long-term benefit of everyone. Primary industries in space will generate secondary and tertiary industries in which many countries can participate. The scale of primary mineral and resource industries in space may well require multinational consortia, perhaps along the lines of the Anglo-French Channel Tunnel now being proposed for construction across the English Channel. The precedent set by American leadership in space enterprises could provide a powerful model to be emulated by other nations. Above all, successful mineral and energy enterprises in space would signal that increasing abundance, rather than redistributing scarcity, is the wave of the future.
We believe that establishing new human communities beyond Earth is an implicitly international enterprise. Human settlements, not national colonies, should be the model. These new communities would allow a revival of cultural diversity that now seems threatened on Earth, broadening humanity’s options for the future.
The support of the American public is the most critical resource of the U.S. civilian space program. It is the people who elect the leaders who, in turn, establish national priorities and allocate funds to each Government endeavor. Although our program calls for increased investment by the private sector, the Government remains the key to critical technological developments and overall implementation. Thus, the attitude of the American public toward space activities will determine whether or not our recommendation’s will be accepted. We firmly believe that the American people want a bold, imaginative civilian space effort. Such a program can inspire national excellence and challenge young people to pursue careers in science and technology.
Educating Our Children and Their Children
When Sputnik 1 penetrated the vacuum of space in October 1957, the reverberations shook the technological and educational underpinnings of the United States. A series of science education initiatives, including the National Defense Education Act of 1958, triggered a reformation of America’s educational system.
This momentum has not been sustained; once again our Nation is confronted with the necessity to revitalize education. A healthy educational system emphasizing high standards is essential to U.S. technological and economic preeminence, national security, and our ability to advance scientific and technological frontiers, especially the space frontier. A citizenry able to understand and appreciate our Nation’s space program is a key ingredient to the future of the program. The Commission believes that current weaknesses in our educational system must be corrected to ensure a vital 21st-century America.
In reviewing the promise of our future space program and the present status of our educational system, it seems appropriate to consider the warning posed by H. G. Wells that “human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”
According to the National Science Board’s (NSB) 1985 “Science Indicators” report, recent studies found that high school graduates on the average took 2.2 years of science and 2.7 years of mathematics during their 4 years of high school. Except for basic courses, such as geometry, first year algebra, and biology, enrollment in science and mathematics courses was generally low. Furthermore, the NSB reports that the 10th grade is the last time most high school students in the United States are exposed to science. Less than one-half of the juniors and only one-third of the seniors take a science course. A substantial drop in the percentage of students taking pre-college science courses from the late 1940s to the early 1980s has been tallied.
These statistics, when held against similar data regarding students in other countries, are even more disturbing. American high school students take substantially less coursework in science and mathematics than pupils in countries such as Japan, West Germany, East Germany, China, and the Soviet Union. While national educational systems vary widely in structure and goals, therefore making comparisons difficult, it appears that United States students spend only one-half to one-third as much time learning science as their counterparts in these other five countries.
In summary, as revealed in a recent national survey of student achievement, an estimated 90 percent of America’s high school graduates may not be capable of accomplishing even the most routine high-technology tasks in the future. While up to 90 percent of high school graduates in other countries enjoy a proficiency in math and science, a mere 6 percent of U.S. graduates attain the same aptitudes. Faced with a growing teacher shortage and a poverty of supplies and equipment to expose students to classroom science demonstration and laboratory experimentation, the United States must counter the surge of scientific illiteracy now epidemic within our country. This challenge exists at every level from elementary through graduate education.
Our space program plays important, but different, roles within our elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and universities. At the elementary through high school levels the space Program provides incentive and inspiration. It is here that our next generation of engineers and scientists must be motivated.
Future managers, scientists, engineers, social scientists, doctors, and technicians for tomorrow’s space endeavors must be attracted to these fields while attending the elementary and high schools of the Nation. It is essential to expose bright students at an early age to science and mathematics, and to offer them a solid program throughout their formative school years. Although many of our youth will not pursue scientific careers, a basic understanding of science and mathematics is essential in our increasingly technological world for tomorrow’s lawyers, Government officials, business experts, and financiers. Indeed, our whole society must attain a higher level of scientific literacy.
In our deliberations and public forums, we have found many educational initiatives centered upon the space program. For example, the privately sponsored Young Astronaut Program is effectively reaching out to elementary and junior high school students to ignite their enthusiasm for studying science, mathematics, and high technology. The highly successful “Space Camps” grow in attendance each year as young people (and even adults) gain valuable “hands on” experience with space hardware. We encourage public and private programs that translate the space program into motivational activities for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. In simple terms, as the United States signals a commitment to the exciting civilian space agenda we are proposing, young talent will follow enthusiastically.
At the university level the issues are less of motivation and more of providing substantive education and training. At the undergraduate level, issues of concern to the Commission have been raised by many groups, including quality training in basic disciplines, loss of the best students from research oriented disciplines to applied disciplines or non-technical disciplines for financial reasons, loss of faculty in high technology disciplines through inadequate budgets, and so on. These issues must be addressed for America’s future health and competitiveness. Our future in space will involve a broad range of skills beyond astronautics. Strong basic education will provide the foundation on which these specialties can be built.
Universities are and will continue to be a vital component of the U.S. space science program. University scientists perform basic space research: They develop and build instruments, analyze data, develop new theoretical models, and they pose scientific questions that can be answered only by space missions. Universities train the next generation of space scientists and engineers. The interaction at universities between scientists who are in the space program and those who are not provides a source of new ideas for the space program, and speeds the incorporation of the space program’s results into the mainstream of the Nation’s scientific and technological base.
NASA’s research and analysis and research and technology base programs have provided the underpinning for most space research and graduate education efforts at universities. These programs support the development of new instruments and mission concepts, the analysis of data from ongoing missions, the analysis of data from completed missions, the development of theoretical models, and the education of graduate students. We concur with studies that have emphasized strongly that the quality of NASA’s scientific program and the return that the country receives from its investment in space missions directly depends on the effectiveness, the health, and the vitality of the research and analysis and research and technology base programs- within NASA, and on similar university-oriented programs in other agencies.
The training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows is an integral part of university research programs directed toward the increase of fundamental knowledge, in the various scientific and engineering disciplines. The long-term vitality of the space program depends on the infusion of new talent, ideas, and innovation through the participation of young graduate students in the relevant disciplines. Equally important, however, is the transfer of knowledge and technology that occurs when students trained in these disciplines work in other areas in industry and in the national laboratories, bringing to these new areas the skills and the familiarity with advanced technology that are characteristic of space science and technology.
The provision of fellowships to graduate students studying in fields related to space science and engineering has been intermittent. We recommend that: Congress authorize NASA to create a fellowship program in space science and engineering. This will help attract the best students to pursue careers in these disciplines and permit access to space careers by highly qualified young people regardless of their financial situation.
Universities educate more than just specialists, however. As results from space sciences are distilled and incorporated into the coherent bodies of knowledge associated with the appropriate disciplines, they become part of the general education of a much larger number of students, eventually becoming woven into the fabric of society.
University laboratory equipment for space research is increasingly out of date. With declining funding and the reduced purchasing power of research funds, new equipment could not be, and was not, purchased. The next generation of students is being trained on the old equipment used to train their teachers. New generations of computing, analytical, and other equipment have become too costly for universities and colleges to purchase. The need to improve university laboratory equipment has been recognized by the National Science Foundation and the Departments of Energy and Defense which have established programs to meet those needs. NASA should also be funded to undertake similar programs to upgrade university space research equipment.
Involving students in flight research requires frequent, readily accessible flight opportunities. New instruments need to be tested on short shuttle flights and on suborbital flights before being placed on expensive, long-duration missions. Graduate students need the “hands on” experience of designing, building, and then flying a low-cost payload during the short term of a graduate education career.
The shuttle is supposed to provide frequent flight opportunities through “get-away specials” “hitchhikers,” and free-flying Spartans, but this potential of the shuttle program has yet to be My realized. Further steps are necessary to increase and simplify flight opportunities for science and technology. The reduction in the cost of space transportation advocated by the Commission would address one aspect of this problem.
The suborbital flight program includes aircraft, sounding rockets, and balloons which provide low-cost, low risk, and quick-turnaround flight opportunities. This program has been the mainstay of instrument development and graduate student participation in the space program since its inception, and will continue in this role for the foreseeable future. This low-cost, high leverage component of the NASA effort should receive continuing support.
In the future the National Space Laboratory, which we advocate for scientific research, should also be accessible to graduate students. A “space semester” at the National Space Laboratory would enable highly qualified students to caM out experiments in orbit as part of their educational program. Our hope is that such a laboratory would provide an environment in which a wide range of disciplines could flourish and in which cross-fertilization and a confluence of creative activity would stimulate innovation-an environment comparable to the traditional Earth-based university laboratories.
In summary, we recommend the following five actions:
That public and private educational initiatives centered on the space program be encouraged to motivate and inspire young people toward science and technology from elementary through high school;
That Congress authorize the creation of a vigorous graduate fellowship program to be administered by NASA;
That funding in the Research and Analysis and Technology Base programs within NASA and similar university-oriented research programs in other agencies be increased;
That NASA undertake a program to upgrade university space research equipment; and
That the suborbital program and shuttle programs provide more frequent flight opportunities for researchers.
Our Sampling of Public Attitudes
Over the course of several months, we sought public comment on the future of the U.S. civilian space program through a series of country-wide Public Forums, various electronic surveys, and direct mail solicitation of opinions. In addition, an article published in a widely distributed Sunday supplement suggested that readers contact us. The thousands of people who responded to these calls for participation in shaping the Nation’s future in space are listed at the end of this report; the Commission is extremely grateful to all.
The 15 Public Forums were carried out from September 13, 1985 to January 17, 1986, in cities that were chosen for their geographical representation and to seek a wide diversity of opinion from the general public (as well as from industry and academia). The first Forum, in Los Angeles, heralded the elegant remarks, visions, and criticisms of Space activity that were to follow throughout the United States: views from social scientists, concepts from the aerospace industry, caveats from lawyers, visions from authors, deep misgivings about the Perceived militarization of space from the general public, and a potpourri of views on the wheres, whens, whys, and hows of space activity from a supportive public.
In some cities, such as Seattle, the public shared the excitement of participation in space tourism. Grass-roots enthusiasm in Houston amplified the commercial prospects of space. Salt Lake City sent a strong message that the future of the space program lies in educating and stimulating the imaginations of young people, even to the point of including them on space journeys.
Tallahassee, Ann Arbor, and Iowa City witnesses brought out the concerns of academia, emphasizing the risks of displacing basic research with inflexible programs. Albuquerque and Boulder participants expressed eagerness for participation in the Nation’s aerospace research programs and roles in space for diverse professionals from chefs to philosophers. Citizens in San Francisco advocated something for everybody, from fanciful space sports, a “feminine frontier,” and serious technology in nuclear pulse engines, to orbiting cities and bolstering the search for extraterrestrial life.
The older cities of space activity, Cleveland with NASA’s Lewis Research Center and Huntsville with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, produced individuals worried about the decline in research dollars, enthusiasm, and career potentials in space. Speakers asserted that only an aggressive space program with an international flavor would rectify the U.S. space enthusiasm deficit.
The District of Columbia Forum was a collage of presentations on “space infrastructure” policy and strategy. Testimony in Boston on revolutionary technologies, the grass-roots movements of the “space generation,” colonies in space, and private sector expansion, all had special relevance for a Public Forum held in historic Faneuil Hall.
Witnesses at the Forums consisted of invited individuals, those who contacted us prior to a specific Forum requesting time to speak, and unscheduled individuals making use of our “open microphone.” Over 1,800 people attended the Forum, with a large percentage of this total actually making presentations.
Disciplines represented at the Forums included theology, philosophy, and teaching from elementary, high school, and college levels. Former astronauts, folk singers, lawyers, and congressional leaders also showed up. The bulk of those attending our Forums had no direct link to the space program. We were overwhelmed by the high caliber of comments obtained, and duly impressed by the commitment of the citizens in attendance to respond intellectually to the call for participation.
A young laborer from Salt Lake City, inspired by the attendance of Commission member Chuck Yeager, expressed his aspirations to go into space during his lifetime. During an open microphone session he advocated the commercialization of space: “People are motivated by profit and the technological advancement that comes from that,” he stated. “Our future is in the almost unlimited resources and energy in space. Private access to space would allow someone like Pan Am to shuttle people back and forth to manufacturing facilities in space.” But in a note of caution, he warned: “Be careful not to monopolize any one aspect of that commercialization so that they cannot control the advancement and retard our growth.”
A philosopher in Boulder started his presentation with “I would like to thank the National Commission on Space for this opportunity to voice my excitement and reservations concerning the development of an aggressive civilian space agenda.” Later in the Forum, a 12-year-old warned that the “big people here today are talking budgets and spending. A lot of big words that I don’t understand. We kids today have incredible dreams and goals. Mine is to use space as a resource to help solve the problems we have today and create a firm foundation for kids like me and the ones coming behind me. You are not making these decisions for just your generation.”
A nine-year-old San Franciscan countered that testimony with “space is neat. It’s a good idea to go there because Earth is getting crowded.” A housewife from Seattle, in an emotional, podium-pounding, impromptu testimony, stated: “This room ought to be filled with people. Where are they?” Her response to spending too much money on the Apollo lunar landing effort: “We didn’t spend a dime on the Moon, we spent it right here on Earth, to promote space, peace, and a new way of fife. Now we are seeing a new frontier, a frontier that belongs to our young generation. How are we going to educate those children if we, the older generation, don’t understand what is going on out there?” Continuing, she remarked: “We need to have a bigger vision. We don’t need to be like people standing on the banks watching Robert Fulton and his steamboat saying he will never make it up the river. Take our tax dollars and give it to the people who can promote a new vision for our young people. They must have the God given right to dream and have the opportunity to be educated to make that dream become a possibility.”
A farmer from western Iowa took time from a busy harvest schedule to share his vision of a piloted mission to Mars by 2010, and added: “I would prefer to see free men and women be the first to set foot on the red planet,” and voted for increasing the NASA budget for space research via taxes.
A Colorado cowboy proudly displaying a large American flag said: “There is an opportunity to solve a great many problems by going into space if we cooperate with the Russians and Chinese. If we do, then we stand a chance to repair some of the damage that has been done in the last 5,000 years on this globe. To do otherwise is ‘cowboy mentality’…”
Only one presentation denigrated our efforts, expressing a view of being “extremely disconcerted” by our stress on “exploitation” of a space frontier.
Visions of future space activity were not as numerous as the reasons for exploring space. One Albuquerque participant, noting that her testimony was being given on the 28th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1, observed: “We do not spend billions of dollars voyaging into space so we can build a better frying pan or computer. As wonderful as our technological achievements are, they are not the reason we go. We are driven to go. Driven by that same necessity that drove early humans outward until their descendants covered the globe. It is a biological imperative. We must do all we can to be certain our existence as a species is continued.”
Capping off the Public Forum series was our visit to Hawaii, the destination of ancient Polynesian explorers and settlers. There we were apprised of a number of potential cooperative ventures in space with other countries, including the prospects for the establishment of a “Pacific Space Center”—an international spaceport that would promote space-related educational and business activities for the Pacific Basin in the 21st century. Others commented on the need to develop innovative approaches to small closed ecological systems, a prerequisite for establishing human settlements in space and on planetary bodies, and the importance of striking a balance between piloted and robotic space pursuits.
We were repeatedly thanked by individuals for creating the Public Forum concept and coming to their city. In essence, our activity was viewed as “bringing the space program to the people.” In doing so, the Forums took a major step in addressing a frequent desire expressed by the public—to personally participate in the future of the space program.
Although it is impossible to list the total scope of comments heard during the Forums, several themes were brought forward repeatedly:
- A desire to learn more regarding the scope and direction of the civilian space effort and to assist in shaping the fate of the program. A perceived lack of information on current and projected space goals was heard throughout the Forums;
- A desire for creation of a lottery in which the prize would be a ride aboard the shuttle to galvanize public interest in the spaceflight experience and initiate a space travel industry;
- A cautionary sentiment that our final report not be too conservative, and that it not highlight “one item gimmicks,” but promote the entire concept of space exploration the movement of humans from Earth into space. “Give us a space program we can really count on” was the comment frequently heard;
- A strong wish that our next goal for piloted space activity not be another Apollo-a one-shot foray or a political stunt. Some supported establishment of a lunar base because of the Moon’s closeness, potential economic payback, and scientific merit. Others argued that Mars remains untouched by humans and therefore would offer a more exciting challenge and technology driver. Any new push into space must supplement living on Earth. “Don’t abandon our home planet”;
- Tremendous support for the role of international cooperation in space and belief that space offers an avenue through which to seek peace on Earth. New initiatives to establish bases on the Moon and Mars were seen by many as prods for international cooperation, as well as a method to decrease the cost of the project to the United States;
- A desire that NASA avoid the routine operation of space systems, and instead pursue bold research, development, and exploration objectives. This position was heard in strong measure from the space science community. The future of NASA as an organizational entity was not discussed to any great degree, but incentives to strengthen private sector space involvement were expressed on a number of occasions; and
- The fear that the intellectual capital of the Nation is ebbing away. A shoring up of the U.S. educational system and our ability to conduct basic research is urgently required if the country is to truly move outward into space and remain competitive on Earth. Also, the youth of the Nation needs to be stimulated to consider careers on the frontiers of human activity, including the space program. Many who testified argued for better career guidance for those interested in space futures. “We need to be able to excite our most promising young investigators and let them know the opportunity will be there.”
The Public Forum series polled a representative cross-section of concerned America. Some individuals came forth with bold visions of the 21st century, but for the majority, the Forums provided an outlet for constructive public criticism of today’s civilian space program; no unified vision for the future emerged. By and large, the general public apparently feels inadequately informed to offer substantive guidance for our civilian space program’s future direction. Although most of the general public feels the program is not under their direct control, they all are eagerly awaiting a new roster of civilian space challenges. The Public Forums strongly reinforced the Commission’s perception of the citizen interest in a broad space program and handsomely repaid the effort on the part of the Commission and public.
In addition to the Public Forum series, several surveys were conducted on behalf of the Commission. Along with solicited responses from selected individuals, we also received public views on future civilian space objectives through electronic computer networks, consisting of the CompuServe Information Service, Terra Nova Communications, the Astronet Network of the Young Astronauts organization, and the Space Network Services of the Boulder Center for Science and Policy. We also received the output from membership surveys prepared by the L-5 Society and Spacepac. The poll taken by the L-5 Society indicated, among other items, strong support for the development of the prerequisite space systems that would enable future space pioneering to be carried out. Spacepac’s member tabulation concluded that a top priority of the country is a move toward long-range space goals and planning. We also received, by way of a “Space Outreach ‘85” program of the National Space Society, ideas from the public on innovative uses of space, such as a site for space tourism, space hospitals, and disposing toxic wastes.
Individuals from all walks of life were solicited for comment by letter and via electronic survey networks and were requested to respond to the following set of questions:
(1) The kind of life you would like the average U.S. citizen to have in the 21st century, and how the space program might play a role in providing it;
(2) Whether the private sector should play a larger role-in space in the future and, if so, how;
(3) Whether the United States should begin to colonize space, first by permanent occupancy of an Earth-orbiting space station and later by establishing bases on the Moon and Mars.
Our letters and electronic network survey techniques inspired hundreds of individuals to respond to our set of queries. It would be. impossible to list the many substantive comments we have received, other than a select few. Former Skylab astronaut Edward Gibson saw the space program as the “custodian of much of the new technology” of the 21st century. In addition, Gibson stated that “each human, regardless of his or her station in life, has an internal eye that responds to images of human evolution that lead us away from our planet. The images of space colonization and exploration win always motivate, inspire, and unify.”
Wrote author Tom Wolfe: “The purpose of the space program should be pointed and singleminded: namely, the exploration, by men and women, of the rest of the Universe—and the establishment of extraterrestrial colonies.” Seconding that position was writer James Michener: “I vote a strong yes in favor of continued study with a target of getting men and women to Mars as soon as practical.” Added the novelist, “I cannot visualize mankind stopping at our present thresholds, either physically or mentally, and I am convinced that if we Americans do not do the exploring and the rationalizing of our data, someone else will, and I do not necessarily mean the Russians. France, Great Britain, Germany, India, China, and Japan either have the capacity now to forge ahead or will soon have it. The job will be done and it seems to me that we have a national obligation to help or even lead.”
IBM Vice President and Chief Scientist Lewis Branscomb expressed his personal view that it is difficult to imagine “a scientific or economic justification for large colonies of people living in space or on the Moon.” He further stated, “I would like to think that the public’s extraordinary excitement over the space achievements of the 1960s and 1970s would continue. The scientific revolution that extra-atmospheric astronomy and unmanned planetary exploration can provide is unimaginable, but the extent of it win be limited by affordability. I suspect that the glamour field will be something else by then, probably biological and having to do with enhancements of human brain power and physical well-being. Space will be a familiar, trusted, and useful field of engineering. It will have to earn its way without as much help as it received from Jules Verne in the past.”
Of those individuals who expressed their skepticism of the Nation’s space program, perhaps the viewpoint espoused by Mitch Snyder of the Community for Creative Non Violence rings a general sound: “I do believe that we are a Nation of technological giants, and moral, ethical, and spiritual midgets. We can travel to the Moon and back. We can even create and ‘freeze-dry’ life. Yet, we are incapable of creating a reasonable and rational and livable world. We presume too much. We reach too high. Personally, I wish that we were more concerned about our inner spaces than we are about our outer spaces.”
The space program represents different things to different people. By and large, through the many public survey techniques we used, and from unsolicited surveys as well, we found minimal Opposition to America’s space program commitment. It is clear, however, that the public is hungering for the enunciation of goals and objectives that constitute the Nation’s civilian space program.
Need for Continuing Public Involvement
As the United States nears three decades of national commitment to a space program, sustained public support for continued progress is paramount if our recommendations are to be pursued and realized. Today, we sense that the public is confused regarding the Nation’s civilian space program, its purpose, objectives, and goals. We hope to influence the national posture concerning our space program by focusing on a new, far-reaching agenda.
According to a wide variety of public opinion polls, the American space program has “earned its keep.” Nevertheless, statistics also show that space exploration is not a pressing topic to a majority of Americans despite a reasonably healthy level of public interest in the topic. These same surveys state that the number of Americans who believe too much money is being spent on civilian space activity has decreased in the past years, with most now feeling the level is “just about right.” In short, a core group of the public is committed to supporting and advancing space objectives, although at a reasonable budgetary pace. This core segment represents a large enough constituency to have a voice in the political process that will ultimately guide our future space objectives.
In considering the scope and magnitude of our recommendations, we recognized that attention must be given to nurturing citizen interest and support for space exploration. The polls show clearly the diversity of public interests that support national space objectives. For the entrepreneur, the commercialization of space is a new, attractive arena for investment. For the explorer, the opening of new worlds stirs the soul. Space as the “high ground” promotes interest for a military strategist. For other citizens, space represents an opportunity to establish new societies that can provide a fresh start for Earth-bound humanity. For many, the Nation’s space program is a stimulant to technology developments that enhance our quality of life here on Earth—the so-called “spinoff benefit.”
In order to reinforce public appreciation and support for the space program, all of these interests need to be cultivated. NASA was widely criticized in our Public Forum series for a lack of effective communication. As one witness testified, “NASA has great management skill. They’ve managed to make the space program absolutely boring. “Many specifically singled out the need for distributing more widely NASA’s collection of well-produced special publications. In short, an immediate problem is augmenting the space agency’s ability to disseminate information regarding present-day programs.
Many citizens who have an interest in space express this by joining space interest groups. These groups constitute a national resource of enthusiasm, knowledge, and expertise that NASA should take greater advantage of, hence we propose that NASA increase communications with existing space interest organizations.
One way to annually revisit our space heritage, and hence our space future, is to declare July 20, the day men first set foot on the Moon, as “National Space Day,” without establishing it as a legal holiday. This would provide an opportunity for the Nation to reflect on space-related activities and our on-going civilian program.
We should develop a strategy for preserving our space program’s heritage. Already, unique structures from our premier space program days he in decay forgotten and rusty mementos of great technological triumphs. For future generations, we laud and endorse the efforts of the Smithsonian Institution to save what will be then considered the Wright Brother-like technologies of our space effort: the orbiters, astronaut training simulators, etc. In addition, we urge the Department of the Interior to complete its Congressionally-mandated Man in Space Study, which concerns the deterioration of historic resources associated with the American space program and their possible preservation and interpretation for future generations.
Finally, we strongly urge that NASA stress that any future unpiloted scientific missions to the Moon, Mars, or the asteroids are important precursors to eventual human visits. This policy should be pursued in the context of the Mars Observer. By stating that this probe will address questions important for eventual human occupancy of the planet, the public would become much more aware of current activities and informed on future long-term plans. It would cost NASA nothing, and would instill in the public mind a better feeling for the more advanced programs that will follow in the future.
In summary, if the Nation is to support a more vibrant civilian space program, increased public appreciation and involvement will, be required. After 29 years of spectacular achievements in space, the American public has become uncertain as to our national space objectives. We must strengthen and deepen public understanding of the challenges and significance the space frontier holds for 21st-century America if we are to capitalize on the human and financial investments of the first quarter century, and attain the bright future we envision.