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Norman Augustine, Edward Crawley Comment on Benefits of Space Exploration

Richard M. Jones
Number 129 - November 2, 2009  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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At the October 22 press conference accompanying the release of “Seeking a Human Space Flight Program Worthy of a Great Nation”, a reporter asked committee chairman Norman Augustine and committee member Edward Crawley about the merits of space exploration. NASA provided a transcript of the 45-minute briefing, a portion of which is excerpted below regarding the justification for a human space flight program:


“In my research so far, I have found and I've heard that people in the public and members -- people who aren't in the scientific community often question the need for funding for space exploration at all. So I'm just wondering how you're going to continue to prove to these people that scientific research and exploration deserves any sort of piece of the Federal budget at all, and how you can win them over, people who aren't in the scientific community necessarily?”

Chairman Augustine:

“That's a great question you ask, and we obviously have thought about that a good deal. One of the problems that we face is that too often in the space program, we've tried to decide where we want to go, what's our destination, rather than why is it we want to go, and I think that's weakened the arguments.

“I guess I should say to begin with, the general public, I think, strongly support a human space flight program. If I'm not mistaken, it costs about 7 cents a day per person to support that program.

“The issue, though, of why do this is a fundamental one, and it's our belief that while science has -- there are great benefits from the human space flight program for science, there are great benefits for new products, for international relations and so on, we believe that none of those things in themselves justify a human space flight program.

“I think you'd have to go to a higher calling, if you will, an objective such as preparing humans to expand into space, and the inspiration that comes from that -- at my age, I remember well the impact that Neil and Buzz had when they landed in the midst of the Vietnam War on the Moon. It was a great inspiration. I talk to so many people who say, ‘The reason I'm an engineer today or a scientist today is because of the space program,’ and so I think there are intangibles.

“I'll make your question even a little more difficult. You know, you say should we be spending the money on the human space flight program or on conquering cancer, and I think when the question is posed that way, it's a very tough question, but I would say that's the wrong way to pose the question.

“We have a $3.9-trillion Federal budget, and I think the question is, is it worth the money we're spending on the human space flight program in that overall context, and I think our committee's strong feeling is that it is. On the other hand, we're anything but unbiased observers in that regard.

“And, Ed, do you want to footnote that?”

Dr. Crawley:

“Yeah. I think that's an excellent question, and Norm laid out these more tangible benefits of space exploration, technology, commerce, and so forth, the less tangible benefits, inspiration of the youth and allowing us to understand our place in the universe, uniquely I think one of the activities of this committee was to actually take those goals for exploration and define measures and metrics based on them that we then use to evaluate the options. So we actually were measuring our options against those things that we think are the goals of human space exploration.

“And since you're a graduate student, you know, I talk to a lot of graduate students and young people, and as one of the most important, I think, political motivations for a human space flight program is the inspiration of the public and particularly the youth, it's important to actually design a program that does that.

“And one of the things we've been very conscious about in this exercise is to create options that would, in fact, engage the public, that the inclusion of the commercial providers of various services is not just about saving money or taking -- creating jobs in the commercial sector. There's actually a broad young community that thinks that commercial space is pretty cool, and that they would like to spend their careers in that.

“There is the investment in technology that we put in all of the options, other than the baseline where we were trying to replicate the current program as closely as possible, which is a pretty clear signal that we believe that NASA's role as a technology developer is an important one and will be critical going forward.

“The options that create new destinations, the idea of going broadly through the intersolar system as a way to interest the American public and the youth in new destinations were all crafted into the options that we created in order to address exactly those issues.”

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics