Reauthorizing the Vision for Space Exploration

On May 7, 2008, George Whitesides, Executive Director of our affiliate organization, The National Space Society, read a prepared comprehensive and in depth presentation on the future goals of the American Space Program before Congress.

His audience was a US Senate Subcommittee – the Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which was having a special hearing on the subject.

As we all know, or should know, none of the three remaining candidates for the Presidency of the United States shares our vision in more than part. The VSE, originally dubbed “Moon, Mars, and Beyond” is a vision in jeopardy.

It is a problem because neither of the candidates, or their science advisor teams, has made space a top level priority, though all three proclaim strong support for the Space Program.

The problem is twofold.

On the one hand, partially because of the current war, partly because of the state of the economy which is not as strong and vigorous as it was four years ago, Congress and the Administration are facing a dire need to cut expenditures.

On the other hand, this constant squabble over diminishing slices of a diminishing pie, pits those who should be allies in opposing positions. In our case, that means robotic planetary exploration and manned space programs.

The hard facts are that different programs which should be funded separately are mischievously put into competition by the committees and subcommittees under which they are funded.

Not only has it long been a mischievous tactic to pit NASA against HUD etc.,, it is mischievous to pit robotic exploration against manned space programs.

Is there a way out? We think so, but it would be a hard sell.

Divide NASA programs into two parts, robotic space exploration and manned space programs, under two different agencies, not one. Currently, even if Congress supports funding for both programs, the NASA Administrator has the power to pick and choose, for example, cutting planned robotic exploration so that the Moon program can continue, or vice versa.

One thing many space advocates have been pushing for more than two decades is to make NASA a customer for space transportation services, not a provider. If we did that, the Constellation-Orion-Ares programs would be canceled, to the great advantage of commercial COTS type programs to create incentives for the Commercial Launch Services Industry to provide superior vehicles at lower launch costs. Competition alone can reduce outrageous space transportation costs.

Then, even as NASA put out a call for proposals for providing crew and cargo transportation to the International Space Station for the period between the mothballing of the remaining Space Shuttle fleet and the debut of service to the space station by commercial providers, the Agency could put out a call for moon base design, construction, and build out services to be provided commercially, and then, looking at the proposals, pick the best two for initial funding.

No matter how highly we regard NASA on the basis of past achievements, the very way NASA works escalates costs and makes all space programs much more expensive than they would have to be. One of those cost factors is satisfying Congress and the population at large on safety. Both Congress and the American people at large are becoming increasingly risk averse in a way that betrays the pioneering frontier spirit of our ancestors. This development is not something of which to be proud. Commercial contractors can be more realistic. There has hardly been a major skyscraper or major bridge built without fatalities.

We cannot continue to keep the space program hostage to the feint of heart. The timid who believe it is a God-given right of every person to die of old age must not be allowed to constrain the hopes and aspirations of our nation. Most of our leaders know that, of course, and that gives us hope that Space will not fall victim to those who would cease all this progress stuff, a problem addressed in the classic 1936 science fiction film, “The Shape of Things to Come.”

In the long haul, the only way we can assure our vision for Space, is to free it from the veto power of those for whom it is not a top level priority, that is, American taxpayers, NASA, for all its tremendous accomplishments, remains a socialized space program.

Our number one legislative initiatives should be to continue in the fine tradition established by space enthusiasts in recent times to dissolve unnecessary roadblocks for commercial space enterprises. We have made progress, we need to make more.

An incentive program on the order of a national X-prize program, might be established to give extra incentives to the commercial sector.

And we should start creating incentives for power production companies (fossil fuel, and electrical power both) to develop space-based solutions and sources.

National support for Space Tourism initiatives would also help.

Now that would be the American Way!

Do read George Whitesdies comprehensive presentation! The Moon Society lauds and supports this statement, and we have posted it, a 78k pdf file, on our website at:

We must all realize that just as NASA invests in redundancy to avoid systems failures, it is in our best interests to invest in redundancy at a higher level, so that if NASA fails, whether on its own or for lack of support in Congress and in the Administration, that our future in space will not fail with it.

Putting all ones eggs in one basket has never been a good idea. Too many of us, I fear, have put all our vision eggs in the basket of NASA. We owe it to ourselves to invest in alternative options. We cannot and must not let the veto power of the public to decide the fate of our goals and aspirations. This is not an anti-NASA statement, it is an anti-one-basket-only statement.

Peter Kokh, President, The Moon Society.