Space Policy Updates?: Let's Build On Our Infrastructure!

By Richard Mains, Posted 07/24/09


"White House" Source: Gov

It’s space policy review season and time for the new Obama administration and brand new NASA leadership to get aligned and focused on goals, means and methods in order to proceed. The space policy waters are still very choppy and filled with vessels from many government and civil organizations going in all directions without a good map. NASA’s vessel looks particularly precarious since there are some fights underway on deck, and some others are lobbing shells at it.

I can't list the many space policy study group activities. However, I will provide some highlights especially relevant to commercial space, and argue that the updated policy must include clear goals, existing and developing space infrastructure needs, related resource requirements, and anticipated benefits for all stakeholders, especially the public. The Obama administration is understandably urging NASA to provide more “inspiration”, but it’s my view (I’m not alone here) that this can only emerge from the pursuit of challenging goals that directly support high-priority national needs. The Apollo 11 lunar landing, for example, was driven by perceived security threats from the Soviet Union, and the national will to demonstrate our capabilities to tackle tough problems with no known solutions. We landed on the Moon, planted the flag, and soon after shut down Apollo.

Now we need space policies that support major national objectives with success measured by achieving milestones that move us toward sustainable infrastructure capabilities and related benefits. It’s a long-overdue game plan with space commerce as a key element, and it can inspire us all.  By building on our "infrastructure" I mean adding to and upgrading all the systems, facilities, tools and resources that are in place such as the Space Shuttle, International Space Station, launch, transport and recovery systems, satellite communication systems, GPS, and ground tracking systems.  I also envision that via the emerging entrepreneurial infrastructure we will have access to new systems such as suborbital space planes, free-flyers, and cargo and human transport systems.  To pursue any national space vision, we need to be able to depend on and utilize these resources effectively and innovatively. 

A new government-wide space policy review has just been initiated at President Obama’s request by Security Adviser James Jones. He is to "review our present policy and decide whether it is in keeping with our vision of the 21st century and where we want to go, and…come up with a coherent space policy into which NASA and our plans fit…”.  Again, I vote for aligning our vision and policies with our evolving space infrastructure, not the other way around.

Fortunately, the National Research Council (NRC) just completed their national space policy study and have published “America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs” so Jones will have a good head start on his task.  The NRC study indicates that it is imperative that the U.S. civil space program be aligned with widely acknowledged national challenges - environmental, economic, and strategic - and if so, will grow in importance. “Coordination across federal agencies, combined with a competent technical work force, effective infrastructure, and investment in technology and innovation, will lay the foundation for a purposeful, strategic U.S. space program that would serve national interests." "The report also recommends revitalizing NASA's advanced technology development program by establishing a DARPA-like organization within NASA to support priority civil and commercial space programs, and development of "dual-use" space technologies, with both civil and defense applications."

Also, former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine is heading into the final set of public hearings for the independent review he is leading of human spaceflight options as mandated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and NASA. Augustine's Committee is assessing ongoing U.S. human space flight plans and programs, as well as alternatives, to ensure the nation is pursuing the best trajectory for the future of human space flight - one that is safe, innovative, affordable, and sustainable. Specific objectives include: a) expediting a new U.S. capability to support utilization of the International Space Station (ISS); b) supporting missions to the Moon and other destinations beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO); c) stimulating commercial space flight capability; and d) fitting within the current budget profile for NASA exploration activities. Those are great objectives because they are based on intelligently using our current and evolving infrastructure. But, good luck Norm, trying to squeeze that into current budgets.

Dennis Wingo, has recently addressed this issue from the global needs perspective in his article, “Why Space? Why Now? That is the Question."  He notes that “recently the World Wildlife Federation proclaimed that it would take the equivalent of two more earth's to provide for the nine billion people that will live on the earth by 2050. Fortunately, with the dozens of Moons, millions of asteroids, and the inexhaustible energy from the Sun, we have more than enough for all.”  That's the "long view" of a compelling need that should increasingly be discussed as part of international space collaboration. 

In order for U.S. civil space to be supported by the public, from the kids to the greybeards, the alignment of our space infrastructure utilization with national goals is essential. I’m defining “space infrastructure” here in a broad sense and including space commerce as an essential element. The profit motive that drives private sector investment is essential to leverage our highly-constrained government funding. Also, effective collaboration at many levels with our global partners should be standard procedure. The faster we move in this direction, the faster will our economy recover and the more inspired will we all be. I say “three cheers” for these policy reviews! Do you agree?



What's the Point?

From: Richard Mains, 07/27/09

Wingo's article on "Why Space?, Why Now? That is the Question" is looking for a compelling answer to why we need new space policies that include building up our space infrastructure with significant commercial involvement. He suggests an answer is the global need for additional resources that we may be able to access in space, but I agree that this requires that we take the "long view". I do think its important to recognize space more as a national and global resource right now to help justify our ongoing investment in space development with its anticipated benefits.

Do You Agree?

From: Thomas Lee Elifritz, 07/26/09

Do you agree? I agree that US space policy and NASA human space flight program is in a shambles and a serious study and change is LONG OVERDUE. I don't agree that quoting Dennis Wingo, a known anti-science denier and wild eyed dreamer with no conception of evolutionary progress under fiscal and technological constraints is going to win you any points with this.

Add Your Comment

(not published)