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Augustine committee meeting
The Augustine committee, seen here meeting in Washington last month, could learn a lot from reviewing the record of previous studies on various aspects of NASA and space policy. (credit: J. Foust)

To boldly go… where others have gone before

With the Review of US Human Space Flight Plans Committee deep into its deliberations, there’s little doubt that this august(ine) group’s findings will carry much weight with those in Washington who will set NASA’s future priorities. The committee’s final report is due sometime next month, so they have little time to spare.

Maybe the committee can borrow from previous blue-ribbon space panels. There’s no shortage of ideas in their reports, and there’s more than a little overlap in their missions and membership.

Norm Augustine’s current committee is his second high-profile effort to reshape NASA’s exploration plans. Sally Ride has also been-there/done-that, and Lester Lyles and Wanda Austin just turned in their own committee report on NASA goals. Here’s a list of some of the committees, commissions and task forces that have tread this ground before:

  • Committee on Rationale and Goals of the U.S. Civil Space Program (Lyles Committee) - July 2009
  • Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy (Aldridge Commission) - June 2004
  • Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) - October 2003
  • Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry (Walker Commission) - November 2002
  • Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization (Rumsfeld Commission) - January 2001
  • Advisory Committee On the Future of the U.S. Space Program (Augustine Commission) - December 1990
  • NASA Leadership and America’s Future in Space (Sally Ride report) - August 1987

Toward readying Florida’s Space Coast for what may be in store from the current Augustine Committee, I collected and paraphrased the findings from these previous groups and lumped them into six categories that are somewhat aligned to the new committee’s charter. Given the march of time, some of them appear outdated and quaint, but others are fresh and relevant and could reused for Mr. Augustine’s new report.

Exploration goals

It would not be good strategy, good science, or good policy for the US to select a single initiative, then pursue it single-mindedly. The pursuit of a single initiative to the exclusion of all others results in leadership in only a limited range of space endeavor. (Ride report, 1987)

The natural progression of human exploration then leads to Mars. There is no doubt that exploring, prospecting, and settling Mars should be the ultimate objectives of human exploration.

We should explore the Moon for what it can tell us, and what it can give us—as a scientific laboratory and observing platform, as a research and technology test bed, and as a potential source of important resources. While exploring the Moon, we would learn to live and work on a hostile world beyond Earth. This should be done in an evolutionary manner, and on a time scale that is consistent with our developing capabilities. (Ride report, 1987)

The natural progression of human exploration then leads to Mars. There is no doubt that exploring, prospecting, and settling Mars should be the ultimate objectives of human exploration. But America should not rush headlong toward Mars; we should adopt a strategy to continue an orderly expansion outward from Earth. (Ride report, 1987)

A long-term goal for human Mars missions should be preceded by a Space Station program that emphasizes life sciences, and an exploration base on the Moon. (Augustine Commission, 1990)

Science should enjoy the highest priority within the civil space program. (Augustine Commission, 1990)

NASA should lead interagency and international efforts to advance our understanding of Earth, objects in the solar system, and the vast universe beyond… including searches for evidence of life beyond Earth. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

NASA should establish clear goals for each step in a sequence of human spaceflight missions beyond low Earth orbit, such that techniques and hardware used for each step can be used in the next step further outward. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

NASA should be on the leading edge of human spaceflight, to challenge technology, bring global prestige, and excite the public’s imagination. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

Government management structure

Multi-center projects should be avoided wherever possible, but when this is not practical, a strong and independent project office reporting to headquarters be established near the center having the principle share of the work for that project. This project office should have a systems engineering staff and full budget authority. (Augustine Commission, 1990)

NASA should convert some of its centers into university-affiliated “Federally Funded Research and Development Centers”. (Augustine Commission, 1990)

An Executive Committee of the Space Council should be established to support management of the civil space program. (Augustine Commission, 1990)

NASA should review the mission of each center to consolidate and refocus their activities with minimum overlap. (Augustine Commission, 1990)

An exceptionally well-qualified independent cost analysis group should be attached to NASA Headquarters with ultimate responsibility for all top-level cost estimating including cost estimates provided outside of NASA. (Augustine Commission, 1990)

To achieve our vision for aerospace, the nation needs a national aerospace policy. (Walker Commission, 2002)

The nation would benefit from a joint effort by NASA and DoD to reduce significantly the cost and time required to access and travel through space. (Walker Commission, 2002)

Some NASA centers should be reconfigured as “Federally Funded Research and Development Centers” to enable innovation, stimulate economic development, and work more effectively with the private sector. (Aldridge Commission, 2004)

Establish a permanent multi-agency Space Exploration Steering Council, reporting to the President and chaired by the Vice President. (Aldridge Commission, 2004)

NASA should adopt personnel and management reforms to support exploration programs, using a “system of systems” approach and a reliance on lead systems integrators. (Aldridge Commission, 2004)

NASA should establish clear goals for each step in a sequence of human spaceflight missions beyond low Earth orbit, such that techniques and hardware used for each step can be used in the next step further outward.

NASA should revitalize its advanced technology development program by establishing a DARPA-like organization within NASA as a priority mission area to support preeminent civil, national security (if dual-use), and commercial space programs. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

The President should task senior executive-branch officials to align agency and department strategies; identify gaps or shortfalls in policy coverage, implementation, and resource allocation; and identify new opportunities for space-based endeavors. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

Space transportation architecture and space station utilization

The most critical and immediate needs are related to advanced transportation systems to supplement and complement the Space Shuttle, and advanced technology to enable the bold missions of the next century. Until we can get people and cargo to and from orbit reliably and efficiently, our reach will exceed our grasp. (Ride report, 1987)

Space Shuttle missions should be phased over to a new unmanned heavy-lift launch vehicle, except for mission where human involvement is essential or other critical national needs dictate. (Augustine Commission, 1990)

A “personnel module” should be provided for emergency return from the Space Station, and initial provisions should be made for two-way missions in the event of unavailability of the Space Shuttle. (Augustine Commission, 1990)

The US civil space program needs a robust transportation system. (Augustine Commission, 1990)

A long-term goal for human Mars missions should be preceded by a Space Station program emphasizing life science, and a Moon exploration base. (Augustine Commission, 1990)

The government should invest in technologies to permit the US Government to field systems one generation ahead of what is available commercially to meet unique national security requirements. (Rumsfeld Commission, 2001)

Prior to operating the Shuttle [or the legacy components of a Shuttle-derived system?] beyond 2010, develop and conduct a vehicle recertification at the material, component, subsystem, and system levels. Recertification requirements should be included in the Service Life Extension Program. (CAIB, 2003)

NASA should establish clear goals for each step in a sequence of human spaceflight missions beyond low Earth orbit, such that techniques and hardware used for each step can be used in the next step further outward. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

NASA should focus use of the International Space Station on advancing capabilities for human space exploration. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

The government should expand international partnerships in the use of the International Space Station. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

Infrastructure, workforce, and skills base

The government should investigate the feasibility of establishing a national spaceport structure at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) under a single management system. (Walker Commission, 2002)

Congressional approval should be given for enhanced leasing authority that allows KSC and CCAFS to lease real property at fair market value and retain lease proceeds to cover the total costs incurred at KSC and CCAFS. (Walker Commission, 2002)

Congressional approval should be given for privatization of NASA utilities at KSC and CCAFS to overcome the budget burdens associated with capital improvements to outdated infrastructure. (Walker Commission, 2002)

NASA and DoD need to make the investments necessary for developing and supporting future launch capabilities. (Walker Commission, 2002)

NASA should also consider turning over day-to-day management responsibilities for its field centers to the respective state governments, universities, or companies. (Walker Commission, 2002)

Global US aerospace leadership requires investments in our industrial base, workforce, long-term research, and national infrastructure. (Walker Commission, 2002)

There is an urgent need to replenish the aerospace science and engineering talent in the government and industry workforce. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

Private sector support and space commerce development

The government should encourage the US commercial space industry to field systems one generation ahead of international competitors. (Rumsfeld Commission, 2001)

To assure the US remains the world’s leading space-faring nation, the government has to become a more reliable consumer of US space products and services. (Rumsfeld Commission, 2001)

The government should shape the domestic and international legal and regulatory environment for space in ways that enhance the competitiveness of the commercial sector. (Rumsfeld Commission, 2001)

The government should promote government and commercial investment in leading edge technologies to assure that the US has the means to master operations in space and compete in international markets. (Rumsfeld Commission, 2001)

NASA’s role must be limited to only those areas where there is irrefutable demonstration that only government can perform the proposed activity.

The government and the investment community must become more sensitive to commercial opportunities and problems in space. Public space travel may constitute a viable marketplace in the future. It holds the potential for increasing launch demand and improvements in space launch reliability and reusability. (Walker Commission, 2002)

The government should decisively transform NASA’s relationship with private sector. (Aldridge Commission, 2004)

Private industry should assume the primary role of providing services to NASA, most immediately in accessing low-Earth orbit. (Aldridge Commission, 2004)

NASA’s preferred choice for operational activities must be competitively awarded contracts with private and non-profit organizations… NASA’s role must be limited to only those areas where there is irrefutable demonstration that only government can perform the proposed activity. (Aldridge Commission, 2004)

In developing enabling technologies for exploration, NASA should develop plans for the transition of appropriate technologies to the private sector. (Aldridge Commission, 2004)

Congress should provide incentives for entrepreneurial investment in space, by creating monetary prizes and assuring property rights for those who seek to develop space resources and infrastructure. (Aldridge Commission, 2004)

The government should lead an effort with other nations to develop rules for a robust space operating regime that ensures that space becomes a more productive global commons for science, commerce and other activities. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

International collaboration

The government should shape the domestic and international legal and regulatory environment for space in ways that enhance the competitiveness of the commercial sector. (Rumsfeld Commission, 2001)

The government should focus on internationally cooperative efforts in the future. (Walker Commission, 2002)

NASA should pursue international partnerships based on an architecture that would encourage global investment. (Aldridge Commission, 2004)

The government, under White House leadership, should pursue international cooperation in space proactively as a means to advance US strategic leadership and meet national and mutual international goals. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

The government should lead an effort with other nations to develop rules for a robust space operating regime that ensures that space becomes a more productive global commons for science, commerce and other activities. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

The government should expand international partnerships in the use of the International Space Station. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

NASA should lead interagency and international efforts to advance our understanding of Earth, objects in the solar system, and the vast universe beyond… including searches for evidence of life beyond Earth. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

NASA should use human spaceflight to enhance US soft power leadership by inviting emerging economic powers to join with us in human spaceflight adventures. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

The government should continue international cooperation in human space exploration. (Lyles Committee, 2009)

 

Maybe there’s good reason that many of these recommendations haven’t been implemented, but maybe the time is right to reconsider some ideas that might have been ahead of their time.


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