Status Report

Statement By Lennard A. Fisk – House Science Committee Hearing: “Perspectives on the President’s Vision for Space Exploration”

By SpaceRef Editor
March 10, 2004
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The President’s Vision for Space Exploration: Perspectives from a Recent NRC Workshop on National Space Policy

Statement of Lennard A. Fisk, Ph.D.

Chair, Space Studies Board, National Research Council and Thomas M. Donahue Collegiate Professor of Space Science, University of Michigan

before the Committee on Science U.S. House of Representatives

March 10, 2004


Chairman Boehlert, Ranking Member Gordon, and members of the committee, thank you
for inviting me to testify today. My name is Lennard Fisk. I am the Thomas M.
Donahue Collegiate Professor of Space Science at the University of Michigan, and I
appear before you today in my capacity as the Chair of the National Research Council’s
Space Studies Board. In discussing the President’s vision for space exploration this
morning I will be telling you about a workshop that the National Research Council held
last November under the sponsorship of the Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and
Space Engineering Board. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss the question:
What should be the principal purposes, goals, and priorities of the U.S. civil space
program? As I will tell you, there are many ideas from that workshop that are well
embodied in the President’s vision for space exploration. There are also some views on
implementation, which you may wish to consider. There are, however, some notable
differences from what participants at our workshop thought was an appropriate approach
that I would like to call to your attention.

I have brought with me and would submit for the record a list of the workshop
participants and a copy of the report,1 titled Issues and Opportunities Regarding the U.S.
Space Program: A Summary Report of a Workshop on National Space Policy
, which
summarizes our discussions. As you can see from the list, the participants represented a
broad range of experiences in the space program, having participated in leadership
positions in NASA, industry, and the military, as well as the science community. The
discussions were informed and lively, and what impressed me most was the extent to
which people agreed on the key issues.

Is the President’s Vision Needed?

The participants in the NRC workshop stated several times over the course of the meeting
that NASA needed a clear vision, direction, and goal for the human spaceflight program.
Furthermore, these participants were inclined to agree that such a goal should be the
human exploration of the solar system beyond low-Earth orbit. They viewed exploration
as the acquisition of new knowledge: knowledge of space as a place for human activity,
knowledge of our solar system, and knowledge of the universe beyond our solar system.
They also saw exploration as a basic human desire, innate in our genetic code, and noted
that human space flight can be the modern realization of that basic trait.
Is NASA Approaching the Vision Correctly?

The important question, of course, is how does the nation proceed in order to achieve a
space exploration goal? How do we ensure success? Our workshop recognized that
exploration of our solar system is a long-term endeavor, which needs to be accomplished
with a series of incremental steps. In this sense, the human exploration efforts can learn

from the successes of NASA’s science programs. Workshop participants observed that
certain key factors have contributed to the success of the science program: there are clear
goals in the science program established by the science community’s interest in pursuing
the most challenging scientific questions; there is strategic planning; and there has been a
steady sequence of accomplishments. The science program is executed via a series of
individual steps that can accumulate success, from which progress can be measured and
momentum sustained.

So what are these steps for human exploration? Our workshop participants envisioned a
number of key efforts-the development of building block technology, the dedication of
ISS research to solving questions posed by long-term spaceflight, eventual phasing out of
the space shuttle, and the use of robotic precursor missions to both the Moon and Mars.
These steps also are part of NASA’s new roadmap for space exploration.

In 1997 the Space Studies Board published a report which I think offers several
complementary ideas for a roadmap for space exploration. Titled The Human
Exploration of Space
, the report reviews three important areas of consideration that the
Board felt were necessary to address at the initial stages of a program in human
exploration.2 First is the enabling science for human exploration. This defines the
conditions necessary to maintain the health and safety of astronauts and to ensure their
optimal performance. Research areas that are enabling science can be classified
according to their degree of urgency. Critical research issues, or “showstoppers,” are
those for which inadequate scientific data lead to unacceptably high risks to any program
of extended space exploration. The second area of consideration is the science that is
enabled by a human exploration program, specifically human missions to the Moon and
Mars. The third area of consideration is one of management and organization-what
should be the relationship between the scientific community and NASA, between
scientists and engineers within NASA, as a program of human exploration moves

The 1997 SSB report identifies the following as those showstopper, critical research
issues: the long- and short-term effects of ionizing radiation on human tissue; the
radiation environment inside proposed space vehicles; the benefits and costs of different
radiation shielding techniques; the detrimental effects of reduced gravity and transitions
in gravitational forces on all of the body’s systems and on bones, muscles, and mineral
metabolism; and the psychological effects of long-duration confinement in microgravity
with no escape possible. These and several other issues related to the human biological
response to space exploration are detailed and prioritized in two more recent National
Academies reports: A Strategy for Research in Space Biology and Medicine in the New
,3 published by the Space Studies Board; and Safe Passage: Astronaut Care for
Exploration Missions
,4 published by the Institute of Medicine.

As for the connection between scientists and engineers, I was struck at our workshop by
how members of the scientific community appeared willing to embrace the idea that the
human spaceflight program can be a contributor to real scientific progress. I think our
participants would echo the conclusions of the 1997 report which called for an integrated
science program to accompany human missions to the Moon and Mars, as well as the
close coordination between human spaceflight and science program staff in the
implementation of an exploration program. Participants at our workshop said many times
that the reason the process of setting research priorities by the scientific community has
had a positive impact on NASA’s science programs is that it creates within the scientific
community, a community that in the language of Congress can be considered the
constituency of the science programs, a sense of ownership in the program. That feeling
of ownership creates what we called a constructive tension between NASA and the
science community, which ultimately empowers the program to excel. We observed this
sense of ownership to be missing from the human spaceflight part of NASA, but that does
not have to remain the case.

Robotic precursor missions to the Moon and Mars can provide an opportunity to engage
this issue of cooperation between science and exploration, develop new technologies for
space exploration, and significantly enhance and optimize the scientific return of eventual
human missions. A 2002 report by the Space Studies Board, New Frontiers in the Solar
System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy
,5 highlighted an extremely exciting
opportunity for science from the Moon, by making a sample return mission to the Moon’s
South Pole-Aitken Basin one of its top priorities. By studying the internal structure of the
Moon at this location, which is the oldest and deepest impact structure preserved on the
Moon, we can investigate how major impacts on the Earth from early solar system space
debris shaped the evolution of our planet. The solar system exploration strategy report
also identifies important scientific opportunities for the exploration of Mars.
Participants at our workshop argued that precursor missions to the Moon and Mars
should seek to move past a previously long-standing dichotomy that has existed between
robotic and human spaceflight over most of NASA’s existence. Part of the goal of these
missions should be to develop the technology that will allow for the greatest possible
human-robotic interaction. Workshop discussions emphasized the concept of synergy-
not just complementarity-between robots and humans. We must learn how to best take
advantage of the strengths of both, separately and in cooperation.

Further Comments on Science

There are other critical research challenges which deserve equal attention and
consideration in addition to the biological and physiological questions I mentioned.
Specifically, I refer to two issues highlighted in our 1997 Human Exploration report: (a)
the characteristics of cosmic-ray particles and the extent to which their levels are
modulated by the solar cycle and (b) the frequency and severity of solar flares. These
issues arise from questions about the nature of the role of the Sun in our solar system and how the Sun creates and controls the environment into which we intend to send
astronauts. The recent NRC decadal science strategy for solar and space physics6
identified key missions within NASA’s Sun-Earth Connections program that are critical
to understanding these fundamental processes and consequently to understanding the
volatile space environment. That report recommended that the Sun-Earth Connections
program of NASA be charged with, and provided the resources needed for, developing a
predictive understanding of the Sun and the space environment it controls. I would urge
you to carefully consider the impact of any prioritization that would hinder or delay the
development of our understanding of and our ability to predict the space environment.

A Lack of Balance in the Science Programs

It was the opinion of many at our workshop that the science road maps, decadal strategy
surveys, and mission plans in astronomy and astrophysics, solar and space physics, and
solar system exploration, which have been so carefully developed by scientists and
engineers in the external community and in NASA, and NASA’s careful attention to
these details in execution of its programs, have resulted in science being NASA’s greatest
current strength. In fact, since the Apollo era came to a close one might argue that
NASA’s science efforts have been responsible for a major fraction of the Agency’s
greatest successes. The pertinent question then is: Can NASA preserve the strengths of
its science programs and at the same time energize a new human spaceflight program that
seeks to include the science of exploration as part of an overall new thrust for the agency?
This is, of course, a question of balance-balance between a new exploration priority and
continuing successful science programs. I would encourage you to consider whether or
not the science disciplines have been divided unnecessarily into those that are perceived
as essential for exploration and those that are not. Our reports argue that the sun and the
planets and moons of the solar system are all equally worthy of exploration. They also
suggest that research to study both the origins of planetary systems and life and the
structure and evolution of the universe are highly important.7 In Earth science, NASA
has a responsibility under the Space Act and its amendments to use its capabilities to
understand our home planet and predict its future. While NASA may now have a priority
to explore, I would expect that it still also has the responsibility to deliver to the policy
makers and the public a sufficient understanding of how we can be good stewards of our
planetary home.8

How to Move Forward

The matter of balance between new exploration priorities and science opportunities,
between new priorities and responsibilities, is very difficult to tackle. I believe the best
way to approach this matter, as is emphasized in our workshop report, is to move forward
on the human exploration front at a deliberate pace. Our workshop discussions embraced
the idea that NASA should pursue a long-term goal via a series of small steps, and they
identified learning as the critical factor that should drive implementation decisions.

There are several subjects about which we need to learn more. We must learn about the
technology we will employ in this endeavor. We must learn more in several areas before
we can be sure we have minimized the health risks to astronauts. And all of us, the
scientific community, NASA, the Congress, and the nation as whole, must learn how to
organize our space program to engage this effort. The workshop report describes
concerns that the infrastructure of our space program was formed and sized to support
Apollo and it asks “Is the current infrastructure properly configured for a bold initiative?”
The report notes that the space program workforce, in the broadest sense, is aging; the
attitudes seem risk averse; process seems more important than ingenuity. Can this mind-
set be changed? An aging workforce and infrastructure is also a feature of the space
science community. Where are the bold new minds that will lead us into the future?

Finally, there is the matter of cost. A sense at the workshop was that it is too premature
to estimate how much an exploration initiative would cost-exactly because we have a
great deal to learn and because our past experiences have told us that we should be
careful in estimating costs too early. This is at the heart of why our participants
emphasized a deliberate approach-we should identify critical research and technology
development issues and devise, even at this early time, some kind of roadmap for
progress in those areas. We must also examine the full breadth of NASA’s science
programs to determine what research already underway may contribute to that progress;
what research is currently planned that may contribute to that progress; and what new
research is necessary, and we must support them all with the resources necessary to
achieve success. Only through this balanced approach, with roadmaps for technology
development and scientific progress that are related to each other and flexible enough to
adapt to change and to learning can we have a guidepost against which we measure our
progress, articulate our successes, and identify our next steps.

This approach to success through a series of individual steps implies a kind of “go-as-
you-pay” approach to exploration to allow for affordable and flexible exploration that
changes in response to learning. In this sense then, go-as-you-pay is complemented by
the practice of pay-as-you-learn.


In closing, Mr. Chairman, I would like to again thank you for inviting me to testify today.
I would be happy to address any questions you and the committee may have about our
report or the discussions that took place at our workshop. A renewed opportunity for
human exploration in the solar system creates an exciting moment in our nation’s history.

I can tell you that there is indeed great excitement in the space community, which I
believe is reflected in our report. I think further that the leaders of the scientific
community may be ready to stand up and say “we believe this country should invest in
this activity, and we are ready to make the case to the world that this is a valid use of this
nation’s resources.” I am hopeful that we as scientists are ready to engage this process
actively to help guide its implementation and direct it toward success.


1 Issues and Opportunities Regarding the U.S. Space Program: A Summary Report of a Workshop on
National Space Policy, NRC Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (2004)

2 The Human Exploration of Space, NRC Space Studies Board, 1997

3 A Strategy for Research in Space Biology and Medicine in the New Century, NRC Space Studies Board,

4 Safe Passage: Astronaut Care for Exploration Missions, Board on Health Sciences Policy, Institute of Medicine, 2001

5 New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy, Space Studies Board, 2002

6 The Sun to the Earth–and Beyond: A Decadal Research Strategy for Solar and Space Physics, NRC
Space Studies Board (2002).

7 The relation of this research to exploration in its broadest context is addressed in Astronomy and
Astrophysics in the New Millennium, National Research Council (2000) and Connecting Quarks with the
Cosmos: Eleven Science Questions for the New Century, National Research Council (2000).

8 The importance of NASA’s Earth science program is addressed in Assessment of NASA’s Draft 2003
Earth Science Enterprise Strategy, NRC Space Studies Board (2003).

NRC Space Policy Workshop Participants November 12-13, 2003


  • Dan Fink, Consultant
  • Robert Frosch, Harvard University
  • Riccardo Giacconi, Johns Hopkins University and University Research Associates
  • Noel Hinners, Lockheed-Martin (retired)
  • Wesley Huntress, Carnegie Institution of Washington
  • Thomas D. Jones, Consultant
  • Todd R. La Porte, University of California, Berkeley
  • John Logsdon, George Washington University
  • Richard Malow, AURA
  • Howard McCurdy, American University
  • Norman Neureiter, Texas Instruments (retired), Department of State through September 2003
  • Mary Jane Osborn, University of Connecticut Medical School
  • Robert Richardson, Cornell University
  • Edward C. Stone, California Institute of Technology, U.S. Representative to COSPAR
  • J.R. Thompson, Orbital Sciences Corporation
  • Albert Wheelon, Hughes Aircraft Company (retired)


  • Lennard A. Fisk, University of Michigan, Chair
  • George A. Paulikas, The Aerospace Corporation (retired), Vice Chair
  • J. Roger P. Angel, University of Arizona
  • Ana P. Barros, Harvard University
  • Reta F. Beebe, New Mexico State University
  • Roger D. Blandford, Stanford University
  • James L. Burch, Southwest Research Institute
  • Radford Byerly, Jr., University of Colorado
  • Howard M. Einspahr, Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute (retired)
  • Steven H. Flajser, Loral Space and Communications, Ltd.
  • Michael H. Freilich, Oregon State University
  • Donald Ingber, Harvard Medical School
  • Ralph H. Jacobson, Charles Draper Laboratory (retired)
  • Tamara E. Jernigan, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • Margaret G. Kivelson, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Bruce D. Marcus, TRW, Inc. (retired)
  • Harry Y. McSween, Jr., University of Tennessee
  • Dennis W. Readey, Colorado School of Mines
  • Anna-Louise Reysenbach, Portland State University
  • Carolus J. Schrijver, Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory
  • Robert J. Serafin, National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Mitchell Sogin, Marine Biological Laboratory
  • C. Megan Urry, Yale University
  • J. Craig Wheeler, University of Texas, Austin



  • illiam W. Hoover, United States Air Force (retired), Chair
  • Donald L. Cromer, United States Air Force (retired) and Hughes Aircraft Company (retired)
  • Dava J. Newman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


  • Bill Adkins, House Committee on Science
  • Marc S. Allen, NASA Headquarters, Office of Space Science
  • Andrew Christensen, The Aerospace Corporation, chair, Space Science Advisory Committee
  • John Cullen, Senate Commerce Committee
  • Gerhard Haerendel, International University, Bremen, ESSC Chair
  • John Mimikakis, House Committee on Science
  • Richard Obermann, House Committee on Science
  • Jean-Claude Worms, European Space Science Committee

Biographical Information

LENNARD A. FISK, chair of the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council, is the
Thomas M. Donahue Collegiate Professor of Space Science in the Department of Atmospheric,
Oceanic, and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan. He is an active researcher in both
theoretical and experimental studies of the solar atmosphere and its expansion into space to form
the heliosphere. He heads the Solar and Heliospheric Research Group, which develops new
theoretical concepts and models, analyzes data from the ongoing Ulysses, WIND and ACE
missions, and which constructs new flight hardware for upcoming missions such as the
MESSENGER mission to Mercury. From 1987 to 1993, Fisk was the Associate Administrator
for Space Science and Applications and Chief Scientist of NASA. In that position he was
responsible for all of NASA’s science programs, including space science, Earth science, and
microgravity life and physical sciences. From 1977 to 1987, Fisk served as Professor of Physics
and Vice President for Research and Financial Affairs at the University of New Hampshire.
Concurrent positions include Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University Corporation
for Atmospheric Research, member of the Board of Directors of the Orbital Sciences
Corporation, and co-founder of the Michigan Aerospace Corporation. Fisk is a member of the
National Academy of Sciences.

SpaceRef staff editor.