Report of the President's Commission on Implementation of United States: Space Exploration Policy A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover

Status Report From: President's Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond
Posted: Wednesday, June 16, 2004

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Executive Summary

On January 14, 2004, President George W. Bush announced a new vision for America's civil space program that calls for human and robotic missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. This vision set forth goals of: returning the Space Shuttle safely to flight; completing the International Space Station (ISS); phasing out the Space Shuttle when the ISS is complete (about 2010); sending a robotic orbiter and lander to the Moon; sending a human expedition to the Moon as early as 2015, but no later than 2020; conducting robotic missions to Mars in preparation for a future human expedition;

and conducting robotic exploration across the solar system. Such a focus for the American space program has not existed since the Apollo era and establishes a much-needed direction and purpose for our national space efforts.

While discovery is the goal of space exploration, the Commission is certain that the benefits here on Earth will make the journey at least as important as the destination. 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. 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.

To sustain this program over many Presidential Administrations and Congressional sessions, our leaders must routinely explain and demonstrate the value, affordability, and credibility of the program to all Americans so that they accept ownership of it. The President has projected the annual resources available to NASA at roughly the same level as in the past, growing only slightly in the coming years. Within these annual levels, the journey will need to be managed within available resources using a "go as you can pay" approach, which allows specific exploration goals to be adjusted as technology advances and periodic milestones are achieved.

Successful implementation of the national space exploration vision will require significant cultural and organizational changes in the federal government's approach to managing the effort, and bold transformation initiatives must be undertaken. The Commission has developed the following findings and recommendations for a sustainable, affordable, and credible program:

  • The space exploration vision must be managed as a significant national priority, a shared commitment of the President, Congress, and the American people. The Commission recommends:
  • The President establish a permanent Space Exploration Steering Council, reporting to the President, with representatives of all appropriate federal agencies, and chaired by the Vice President or such other senior White House executive that the President may designate. The council shall be empowered to develop policies and coordinate work by its agencies to share technologies, facilities, and talent with NASA to support the national space exploration vision.
  • NASA's relationship to the private sector, its organizational structure, business culture, and management processes - all largely inherited from the Apollo era - must be decisively transformed to implement the new, multi-decadal space exploration vision. The Commission recommends:
  • NASA recognize and implement a far larger presence of private industry in space operations with the specific goal of allowing private industry to assume the primary role of providing services to NASA, and most immediately in accessing low-Earth orbit. In NASA decisions, the preferred choice for operational activities must be competitively awarded contracts with private and non-profit organizations and NASA's role must be limited to only those areas where there is irrefutable demonstration that only government can perform the proposed activity;
  • NASA be transformed to become more focused and effectively integrated to implement the national space exploration vision, with a structure that affixes clear authority and accountability;
  • NASA Centers be reconfigured as Federally Funded Research and Development Centers to enable innovation, to work effectively with the private sector, and to stimulate economic development. The Commission recognizes that certain specific functions should remain under federal management within a reconfigured Center;
  • the Administration and Congress work with NASA to create 3 new NASA organizations:
    • a technical advisory board that would give the Administrator and NASA leadership independent and responsive advice on technology and risk mitigation plans;
    • an independent cost estimating organization to ensure cost realism and accuracy; and
    • a research and technology organization that sponsors high risk/high payoff technology advancement while tolerating periodic failures; and

  • NASA adopt proven personnel and management reforms to implement the national space exploration vision, to include:
    • use of "system-of-systems" approach;
    • policies of spiral, evolutionary development;
    • reliance upon lead systems integrators; and
    • independent technical and cost assessments.

  • The successful development of identified enabling technologies will be critical to attainment of exploration objectives within reasonable schedules and affordable costs. The Commission recommends:
  • NASA immediately form special project teams for each enabling technology to:

    • conduct initial assessments of these technologies;
    • develop a roadmap that leads to mature technologies;
    • integrate these technologies into the exploration architecture; and
    • develop a plan for transition of appropriate technologies to the private sector.

  • Sustaining the long-term exploration of the solar system requires a robust space industry that will contribute to national economic growth, produce new products through the creation of new knowledge, and lead the world in invention and innovation. This space industry will become a national treasure. The Commission recommends:
  • NASA aggressively use its contractual authority to reach broadly into the commercial and nonprofit communities to bring the best ideas, technologies, and management tools into the accomplishment of exploration goals; and
  • Congress increase the potential for commercial opportunities related to the national space exploration vision by providing incentives for entrepreneurial investment in space, by creating significant monetary prizes for the accomplishment of space missions and/or technology developments and by assuring appropriate property rights for those who seek to develop space resources and infrastructure.
  • International talents and technologies will be of significant value in successfully implementing the space exploration vision, and tapping into the global marketplace is consistent with our core value of using private sector resources to meet mission goals. The Commission recommends:
  • NASA pursue international partnerships based upon an architecture that would encourage global investment in support of the vision.
  • Implementing the space exploration vision will be enabled by scientific knowledge, and will enable compelling scientific opportunities to study Earth and its environs, the solar system, other planetary systems, and the universe. The Commission recommends:
  • NASA seeks routine input from the scientific community on exploration architectures to ensure that maximum use is made of existing assets and emerging capabilities;
  • NASA ask the National Academy of Sciences to engage the scientific community in a re-evaluation of priorities to exploit opportunities created by the space exploration vision. In particular, the community should consider how machines and humans, used separately and in combination, can maximize scientific returns; and
  • a discovery-based criterion to select destinations beyond the Moon and Mars that also considers affordability, technical maturity, scientific importance, and emerging capabilities including access to in-situ space resources.
  • The space exploration vision offers an extraordinary opportunity to stimulate mathematics, science, and engineering excellence for America's students and teachers - and to engage the public in a journey that will shape the course of human destiny. The Commission recommends:
  • The Space Exploration Steering Council work with America's education community and state and local political leaders to produce an action plan that leverages the exploration vision in support of the nation's commitment to improve math, science, and engineering education. The action plan should:
    • increase the priority on teacher training;
    • provide for better integration of existing math, science, and engineering education
    • initiatives across governments, industries, and professional organizations; and
    • explore options to create a university-based "virtual space academy" for training
    • the next generation technical work force.

  • Industry, professional organizations, and the media engage the public in understanding why space exploration is vital to our scientific, economic, and security interests.
  • The Commission unanimously endorses this ambitious yet thoroughly achievable goal of space exploration. This will require a steady commitment from current and future Administrations, Congresses, and the American people. Reasonable risk must be accommodated, along with some failures. Our journey will require the government to embrace fundamental changes in its management and organization. This exploration vision must be discovery driven - and it must certainly necessitate placing greater reliance on the private sector. We should take advantage of this unique opportunity to inspire our youth, motivate our teachers and improve math, science, and engineering education for our future workforce. In fact, we must do all of these things to succeed.

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