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NRC Report: United States Civil Space Policy: Summary of a Workshop

Status Report From: National Research Council
Posted: Monday, May 5, 2008

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Full report

Summary

What are the principal purposes, goals, and priorities of the U.S. civil space program? This question was the focus of the workshop on civil space policy held November 29-30, 2007, by the Space Studies Board (SSB) and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) of the National Research Council (NRC). In addressing this question, invited speakers and panelists and the general discussion from this public workshop explored a series of topics, including the following:

  • Key changes and developments in the U.S. civil space program since the new national Vision for Space Exploration (the Vision) was articulated by the executive branch in 2004;
  • The fit of space exploration within a broader national and international context;
  • Affordability, public interest, and political will to sustain the civil space program;
  • Definitions, metrics, and decision criteria for the mix and balance of activities within the program portfolio;
  • Roles of government in Earth observations from space; and
  • Gaps in capabilities and infrastructure to support the program.

The workshop organizers acknowledged the long-standing problem of reconciling expectations of civil space program accomplishments during the coming decades with the limited public resources available to support these activities. The goal of the workshop was neither to develop definitive solutions nor to reach consensus. Rather, the purpose was to air a range of views and perspectives that would serve to inform broader discussion of such questions by policy makers and the public.

This document summarizes the opinions expressed by individual workshop participants and does not necessarily reflect the consensus views of these participants, the SSB, or the workshop planning committee. By way of background, the SSB and the ASEB had convened a similar workshop in 2003 in the wake of the space shuttle Columbia tragedy and the findings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. Since the issuance of the report on the 2003 workshop, Issues and Opportunities Regarding the U.S. Space Program: A Summary Report of a Workshop on National Space Policy, additional developments have taken place to redirect many elements of the civil space program. The Vision for Space Exploration set forth by the executive branch in 2004, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act of 2005, and the national space policy presidential directive issued in 2006 have all served to redirect the program. The Vision sets forth a long-term robotic and human exploration program; the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 endorses the Vision and directs the program in several areas with respect to policy, management, and accountability and oversight; and the 2006 presidential directive establishes goals related to U.S. space leadership and the governance of space operations in and through space.

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