A presidentially-appointed commission has just issued its report on
how to effectively implement President Bush's Space Exploration Vision.
The President's Commission on Implementation of United States Space
Exploration Policy, better known as the Commission on Moon, Mars and
Beyond, declared in a June 16 report that it "unanimously endorses
this ambitious yet thoroughly achievable goal of space exploration."
But the commission also warns that to succeed, NASA's management, culture
and operations "must be decisively transformed." The commission
envisions a substantial role for a private-sector space industry that
"today...does not really exist," and calls for a re-evaluation
of NASA's scientific priorities to better align with the exploration
objectives and opportunities.
President Bush appointed the commission (comprising nine members from
the sectors of industry, government, academia and the military) in January
of this year, with the charge to make recommendations on how best to
undertake implementation of his space exploration vision (see FYI
#20). The commission responded with a report that lays out eight
findings and 14 recommendations.
In its report, the commission emphasizes three "imperatives for
success:" sustainability, affordability, and credibility. To be
sustainable, the report says, the exploration initiative "will
require a steady commitment from current and future Administrations,
Congresses, and the American people." The commission acknowledges
that "public ownership of this agenda must be broad, deep, and
nonpartisan," and suggests new and innovative approaches to marketing
- from IMAX films to video games - to generate that support.
Regarding affordability, the commission notes that annual NASA budgets
are likely to be "roughly the same level as in the past,"
so exploration must be accomplished in incremental steps "executed
on the basis of available resources." Demands for an up-front accounting
of the entire cost, the commission says, reflect "a fundamental
misunderstanding of the dynamics of this discovery-driven and multi-phased
journey." The commission believes that significant private-sector
and international investment will be necessary. It recommends incentives
and monetary prizes to encourage the growth of a private space industry,
and states that "commercialization of space should become a primary
focus of the vision." Issues relating to ownership and property
rights on extraterrestrial bodies should be addressed early on, the
report says, or the "uncertainty could strangle a nascent space-based
industry in its cradle." The commission also "finds that international
talents and technologies will be of significant value" to the initiative.
"How our international partners will participate," the commission
adds, "will depend on the specifics of the architecture that will
be established by the United States."
Credibility would be achieved, the commission suggests, by "an
unyielding commitment to safety, yet clarity regarding risk." Noting
that "currently, NASA's organization chart is not wired for success,"
the commission places major emphasis on restructuring the agency. It
recommends adopting "proven personnel and management reforms,"
establishing new entities to address cost estimates and technical challenges,
converting NASA centers to Federally Funded Research and Development
Centers, and reorganizing NASA's structure to be "more focused
and effectively integrated to implement the national space exploration
vision." The report also calls for a permanent, multi-agency Space
Exploration Steering Council that reports to the President.
Proclaiming that the exploration initiative "will enable compelling
scientific opportunities," the commission also urges NASA to work
with the National Academy of Sciences and the scientific community in
a re-evaluation of its scientific plans and priorities, to exploit opportunities
created by the initiative. "While favoring an inclusive future
science agenda for the nation," the commission says, "we recognize
that attempts to implement a sweeping program consisting of even the
most meritorious science could potentially defocus the vision to the
detriment of all science. If it is determined that the inclusion of
specific highly regarded science programs hampers the implementation
of the vision," the report continues, "then such programs...should
be transferred to another government agency or organization that could
capably implement them."
The commission clearly believes in the wide-ranging potential benefits
of an exploration initiative: "The long-term, ambitious space agenda
advanced by the President for robotic and human exploration will significantly
help the United States protect its technological leadership, economic
vitality, and security," the report states. "This ambitious
path of exploration and the achievements made along the way will inspire
the nation's youth, yield scientific breakthroughs, create high technology
jobs, improve our industrial competitiveness, demonstrate America's
leadership, and improve prosperity and the quality of life for all Americans."
One of the areas the commission highlights is math and science education
and the preparation of a high-skilled workforce for the future; "The
space exploration vision can be a catalyst for a much-needed renaissance
in math and science education in the United States," it says.
The full report, "A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover,"
which spells out the commission's findings and recommendations in detail,
can be found on the commission's web site at http://www.moontomars.org.
Responding to the release of the report, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe
said, "the recommendations released today by the commission will
influence our work for years to come and will help guide us through
a transformation of NASA.... While we have indeed accomplished a great
deal in NASA's 45-year history, in many ways we are at the beginning
of the age of space exploration. We now have the foundation on which
NASA can build a vibrant, safe and sustainable journey." As one
of the first steps in transforming the agency, on June 24 O'Keefe announced
that NASA's current "enterprises" will be reorganized into
four "directorates:" Exploration Systems, Aeronautics Research,
Space Operations, and Science, with Earth and Space Science programs
to be combined in the Science Directorate.