Status Report

Testimony of John Logsdon: Senate Science, Technology, and Space Hearing: International Space Exploration Program

By SpaceRef Editor
April 27, 2004
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Given at a Science, Technology, and Space Hearing: International Space Exploration Program

Tuesday, April 27 2004 – 3:30 PM – SR – 253

The Testimony of Dr. John Logsdon, Director, Space Policy Institute, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for providing an opportunity to reflect on the character of space exploration programs around the world. I will focus in my testimony on the exploration plans of Japan and India. However, less than two weeks ago I was in Europe discussing European exploration plans with space leaders there, and so I will also add a few words on my perceptions of what I heard there.

Between July 1969 and December 1972, twelve American astronauts walked on the surface of the moon. The Apollo program will in historical terms be remembered as the beginning of human exploration of the solar system, and the plaque attached to the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle says “we came in peace for all mankind.” The reality was rather different, as you well know. Sending Americans to the moon was “part of the battle along the fluid front of the Cold War,” to quote the recommendation that President John F. Kennedy approved in May 1961 to initiate the lunar landing program.

More than forty years later, the Cold War is thankfully well behind us. We have no need as a nation to demonstrate our technological and organizational might through dramatic space achievements carried out unilaterally. In the three decades since Apollo, the solar system has become open for exploration not only to the United States and its superpower rival the Soviet Union, but to other countries around the globe. Either in cooperation with one of those space superpowers or on missions of their own, many countries around the world have made robotic exploration of the solar system a high priority in their space efforts.

Among those nations are Japan and India. Almost a decade ago, in its “Long Term Vision for Space Development,” the Japanese government set out as a basic goal a philosophy that might well be adopted by all space faring countries: to “enable access to the vastness of space and use the infinite potential of space as the common property of mankind, thereby making a full and effective contribution to the enduring prosperity of all inhabitants on earth.” That Vision anticipated sometime after 2010 there would be an international lunar base, with Japan as a key participant.

In pursuit of its Vision, Japan has launched several exploratory spacecraft and is preparing several more for launch to the moon. Japan’s Nozomi spacecraft was launched toward Mars in July 1998, and arrived there at the end of 2003, after a journey fraught with technical difficulties. A final spacecraft malfunction kept Nozomi from entering Mars orbit. In May of last year Japan launched the Hayabusha (MUSES-C) mission, which will rendezvous with an earth-crossing asteroid in 2005 and return a sample of that body to Earth in 2007.

Awaiting launch are the Lunar-A mission, which will send two small penetrators into the lunar surface for seismological research, and SELENE, which will be the heaviest spacecraft to orbit the moon since the days of Apollo. The SELENE mission will focus on the origins and evolution of the Earth’s nearest neighbor. Projected launch date for Lunar A is this year or early in 2005; SELENE, the following twelve months. Both missions have been delayed several times in the past, and additional delays are probable.

In addition, Japan is planning for a mission to Venus in the future and is a major partner in the European Space Agency Beppi-Colombo mission to Mercury.

So Japan indeed has ambitious plans for solar system exploration. But this discussion would not be complete without noting that Japan’s space program is currently pretty much on hold, following several major spacecraft failures in 2002 and 2003 and then the launch failure of the sixth mission of Japan’s H-IIA rocket in November 2003. These failures came at the time that Japan was reorganizing its space efforts into the new Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The combination of investigating the causes of these recent failures and putting into place measures to assure future mission success, together with the bureaucratic and cultural challenges of merging various previously separate Japanese space agencies into an integrated structure, are consuming the energies of Japanese space leaders. It is no exaggeration to say that Japan is undergoing a crisis of confidence in its space efforts. Until short-term problems are addressed, Japan will not be able to move forward with its exploration plans.

However, even given this rather gloomy situation, a standing-room only crowd attended a January 23 symposium on lunar exploration. And, as one of the leaders of Japanese space exploration, Yasunori Matogawa, recently wrote: “I feel my mind is getting stronger and stronger day by day that what could finally relieve ourselves would not come from anywhere but from our own vigorous willpower to carry on Exploration. Its keyword is moon. I cannot help but believe these days that moon is the best- chosen target containing every possibility as to science, global ecology, resources development, safety and security.”

Last year, on Indian Independence Day, August 15, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayeeon announced that India in 2007 would send its first mission to the moon, to be named Chandrayaan-1. The spacecraft will spend two years in orbit 60 miles above the lunar surface. India has had an active space program for over thirty years, and has developed its own launch vehicles to access both low Earth orbit and geosynchronous orbit. Its space program to date has been focused on contributions to Indian development and economic growth. For example, India operates a multi-satellite constellation of remote sensing satellites that provide world-class imagery of the subcontinent.

Now India appears poised to go beyond an Earth-oriented space program to join other nations in exploring the solar system. Visiting the Indian SHAR launch site on the eastern coast of the country last October, Indian President Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, himself a former space engineer, told the assembled workers that “The exploration of the moon through Chandrayaan will electrify the entire country, particularly young scientists and children. I am sure the moon mission is just a start towards further planetary explorations.” He added that he could “visualise a scene, in the year 2021, when I will be 90 years old and visiting SHAR Space Port for boarding the space plane, so that I can reach another planet and return safely as one of the passengers. I foresee the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR,to grow into an international spaceport with a capability of enabling launches and landings of the reusable launch vehicles.”

India has invited international scientific participation in the Chandrayaan-1 mission. It has received some twenty-five proposals for such participation from scientists in the United States, Canada, Israel, and Europe. Clearly, investigators from many other countries want a ride aboard India’s first exploration mission.

Let me add a few works on my views on Europe’s plans for solar system exploration, based on conversations during a recent trip to Paris. First of all, Europe is already an active player in robotic exploration in the solar system, with its Mars Express mission in orbit around Mars, the Huygens spacecraft carried to Saturn along with the U.S. Cassini craft scheduled to land on Saturn’s moon Titan early next year, Smart-1 on the way to the moon, and the Rosetta spacecraft started on its ten-year journey to rendezvous with a comet. More robotic missions are planned.

For the past several year, the European Space Agency (ESA) has been studying, through a program called Aurora, a human mission to Mars in the 2030 time frame.This was only a study program; the plan was to begin a preparatory phase only in 2005, with any major investments in human exploration well after 2010. Within ESA, a second study group last year proposed setting as a European goal establishing a base on the moon. That was a slightly faster paced program, with a goal of a permanent European presence on the moon by 2025. This second plan did not receive the support of the ESA leadership.

However, these exploratory missions and studies in recent years have been taking second priority to an emerging focus on how space capabilities can contribute to the development of Europe as an economic, political, and cultural entity, with a focus on Earth-oriented space missions in Earth observation, navigation and timing, and perhaps broadband communications and military uses.

President Bush’s proposed U.S. Vision for Space Exploration, with its stated intention of inviting other countries to join “a journey, not a race,” poses a direct challenge to stated European space ambitions. If the Congress gives the go ahead to the initial steps in achieving this vision – and I believe that it should – Europe will be faced with the choice, with limited resources available for space programs, of whether to proceed on its current path or become a major partner in U.S.-led exploration of the solar system. I understand that the Director General of ESA, Jean-Jacques Dordain, was invited to be here today but rather is in Russia awaiting the return of ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers from his brief stay on the International Space Station. Referring to President Bush’s January 14 speech on space exploration, Dr. Dordain has been quoted recently as saying that “dreamed of the day when the President of Europe would come to ESA headquarters and make a similar policy declaration.” A new ESA team is just beginning to plan how best to respond to the anticipated NASA invitation to participate.

Space exploration is no longer – indeed has not been for more than thirty years – an arena for unilateral display of national power. As my testimony and that of the others appearing before you today has shown, exploring the solar system has become a truly global enterprise.

Last year I had the privilege of serving as a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. The Board’s August 2003 report was explicit in laying out the negative consequences of the lack of a compelling vision for human spaceflight, and characterized that lack as “a failure of national leadership.” To its credit, the Bush administration has responded to that criticism with what must be characterized in its essence as a “compelling vision” of a human-robotic partnership for the exploration of our solar system. There is an understandable focus in the Congress on the short-term implications of the proposed vision. I hope that the basic principle put forth by the President – that it is in the nation’s interest, now and for future generations, to take the leading role in extending human activity and presence into the solar system, is not lost in this shorter term focus.

I also hope that today’s testimony has helped underline the reality that if the United States public through its elected representatives chooses not to accept the President’s vision and make it a “National Vision for Space Exploration,” other countries in coming decades will assume that exploratory leadership. Writing to the White House in late 1971 to make the case that the United States should not choose to end its program of human space flight, NASA Administrator James Fletcher argued “Man has learned to fly in space, and man will continue to fly in space. . . . The United States cannot forgo its responsibility – to itself and to the free world – to have a part in manned space flight. . . . For the U.S. not to be in space, while others do have men in space, is unthinkable, and a position which America cannot accept.”

I would change one word in Dr. Fletcher’s argument. Rather than “cannot” I would say “should not.” We can indeed make as a society the decision that the benefits of human spaceflight are outweighed by its costs and risks. To me, that would be a sad choice.

John M. Logsdon is Director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where he is also Professor of Political Science and International Affairs. He holds a B.S. in Physics from Xavier University (1960) and a Ph.D. in Political Science from New York University (1970). Dr. Logsdon’s research interests focus on the policy and historical aspects of U.S. and international space activities.

Dr. Logsdon is the author of The Decision to Go to the Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest and is general editor of the eight-volume series Exploring the Unknown: Selected Documents in the History of the U.S. Civil Space Program. He has written numerous articles and reports on space policy and history. He is frequently consulted by the electronic and print media for his views on space issues.

Dr. Logsdon recently served as a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. He is a former member of the NASA Advisory Council and a current member of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee of the Department of Transportation. He is a recipient of the NASA Distinguished Public Service and Public Service Medals and a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

SpaceRef staff editor.