Status Report

AIP FYI #85: Commission Unanimously Supports Space Exploration Vision

By SpaceRef Editor
June 28, 2004
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“The Commission fully supports your vision and finds that this
journey of exploration will sustain vital national objectives here
on Earth.” – letter to President George Bush from E.C. “Pete”
Aldridge, Jr., Chairman of the President’s Commission on Moon, Mars
and Beyond

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

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

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

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

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.

Audrey T. Leath

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.