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Dennis Tito made headlines earlier this year by announcing plans to send a married couple to Mars in 2018 as a private sector initiative, but at a congressional hearing Wednesday he revealed a change in plans. Now he wants the effort to be a public-private partnership, with NASA as his partner and the largest contributor to the effort.
Tito is a millionaire who was the first "space tourist" to visit the international Space Station. He paid a reported $20 million to Russia for a the one-week trip, which created quite a stir at the time although several other wealthy individuals have made similar trips since then.
In February, he captured headlines again when he announced at the National Press Club his plan, Inspiration Mars, to send a married couple on a 501 day slingshot trajectory around Mars in 2018. Earth and Mars are properly aligned every 26 months for such trips and some of those opportunities are better than others in terms of how much energy is needed to make the trip. That affects trip time and how much mass can be sent. The year 2018 is one of the very best opportunities that come around only every 15 years.
However, getting such a mission ready in such a short period of time evoked considerable skepticism. Not only are there safety questions since no solution has been found to protect humans from radiation exposure on such trips, but a very large rocket and other systems are needed. In his testimony Wednesday and a new report describing his plan, Tito concedes that he needs NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) now under development. SLS is currently scheduled to make its first test launch in 2017. He wants NASA to contribute an SLS launch and in the new report describes the effort as largely a NASA mission: "The Mars mission of 2018-2019 is the kind of hard, daring, and high-yield quest for which NASA was made."
He reportedly calculates that this is a $1 billion mission, with NASA putting in $700 million and the private/philanthropic sector raising the other $300 million. NASA made clear in a statement yesterday that while it supports public-private partnerships and is happy to talk to Inspiration Mars, it "is unable to commit to sharing expenses with them." NASA's statement, provided by David Weaver, Associate Administrator for the Office of Communications, is reproduced below.
NASA is facilitating the success of the U.S. commercial space industry, opening up new markets and supporting the creation of good-paying American jobs -- all on a path to send humans to Mars. The agency is developing its most powerful rocket to date, getting ready for a test flight of a crew capsule that will take astronauts farther into space than ever before and planning an ambitious mission to capture, redirect and explore an asteroid. We have a robust Mars exploration program with important science missions, such as Curiosity and MAVEN, to help us better understand the Red Planet. Every one of these activities is laying the groundwork for future human missions.
At the same time, the American commercial space industry is on the rise, with multiple firms competing to explore space and create economic growth opportunities here on Earth. Two American companies have started cargo resupply operations to the International Space Station, and NASA has issued a ground-breaking request for proposals to certify private U.S. companies to fly astronauts to the space station.
NASA has had conversations with Inspiration Mars to learn about their efforts and will continue discussions with them to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually-beneficial activities that could complement NASA's human spaceflight, space technology and Mars exploration plans. Inspiration Mars' proposed schedule is a significant challenge due to life support systems, space radiation response, habitats, and the human psychology of being in a small spacecraft for over 500 days. The agency is willing to share technical and programmatic expertise with Inspiration Mars, but is unable to commit to sharing expenses with them. However, we remain open to further collaboration as their proposal and plans for a later mission develop.
UPDATE, November 21, 2013: Senator Nelson's bill is S. 1753. Like the House bill, it is bipartisan, with three Republican co-sponsors (Thune, Rubio and Cruz) and three Democrats in addition to Nelson (Feinstein, Heinrich and Warner.)
ORIGINAL STORY, November 20, 2013: Extending the FAA's authority to indemnify commercial space launch companies against certain third party claims for damages from launch failures is back on the congressional docket. Congress extended the authority for only one year last time and must act before December 31 if it is to continue.
A bipartisan bill, H.R 3547, was introduced in the House today to grant another one-year extension. The bill was introduced by the top Republicans and Democrats on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and its Space Subcommittee following a hearing this morning on commercial space activities: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Rep Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD).
On the other side of Capitol Hill, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) reportedly plans to introduce his own version of the bill today. Nelson chairs the Science and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and his bill would grant a three-year extension, to the end of 2016.
Johnson and Edwards, the top Democrats on the House committee, said in a statement that a one-year extension would give the committee time to conduct more hearings into the issue. Committee chairman Smith and subcommittee chairman Palazzo said in the same statement that a longer term would have been preferable.
Congress created the third party indemnification provision in 1988 and has renewed it periodically since then. Industry often calls for long term extensions or even making it permanent, but so far Congress has granted the authority for shorter periods in order to preserve its ability to reexamine whether indemnification is still necessary. At today's hearing, Satellite Industry Association President Patricia Cooper called for making the provision permanent or extending it for least 10 years. Stuart Witt, CEO and General Manager of the Mojave Air and Space Port, argued for making it permanent.
Under the provision, a three tier system is establishing for paying claims for damages to third parties (basically the general public) in the event of a commercial space launch accident. The launch services company would have to pay the first $500 million, the government would pay the next tier of claims (originally $1.5 billion, but that is adjusted for inflation and was $2.7 billion in 2012), and the company is responsible for claims above that amount.
At a panel discussion yesterday, representatives from four major space agencies highlighted the many benefits of international space cooperation, even while noting that working with foreign partners is neither easy nor does it lead to cost savings.
The event was organized by the American Astronautical Society (AAS) and featured representatives of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). All are partners in the International Space Station (along with Russia). ISS was cited as the most successful example of international cooperation to date.
Space cooperation, however, dates back much further. Kent Bress, director of the Aeronautics and Cross-Agency Support Division of the NASA Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR), traced NASA’s efforts back to the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 that created the agency. International collaboration is “written in our legal DNA,” he said. Today, over 50 years later, NASA has more than 600 active international agreements.
NASA has been pursuing space cooperation “essentially the same way” for all those decades, explained Bress. The fundamental guidelines, which include no exchange of funds or technology transfer among the partners, have remained virtually unchanged. “We are not in the business of teaching our partners how to operate in space,” said Bress about the “meet at the interface” principle NASA uses.
One of NASA’s longest-standing partners is Europe. Micheline Tabache, head of the Washington office of the 20-member ESA, said that the United States is ESA’s “main partner and has been since day one.” ESA does not pursue cooperation for its own sake, explained Tabache. According to her presentation “ESA seeks cooperation to pursue its programs, not for the sake of a general policy objective.” Concrete benefits to international partnerships include securing participation in large programs and the exchange of data and information. For example, since ESA does not have a human spaceflight program, its cooperation with NASA has allowed them to launch astronauts into space. “Cooperation does not make things cheaper, I’m afraid, but it does make things happen,” Tabache added. She also quoted ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain as saying that “It’s not easy to cooperate, but it’s more difficult to succeed alone.”
Bill Mackey, counselor of US-Canada space affairs at the Canadian Space Agency, also highlighted mutual benefit as a fundamental component of successful partnerships. “We can’t do it all alone,” he said. Canada has benefited from five decades of “mutually-beneficial” cooperation with NASA and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “By international cooperation we enrich the team,” he said.
This has also been Japan’s experience. According to Masahiko Sato, director of the Washington office of JAXA, “it is not an overstatement that Japanese space activities have evolved mainly through US-Japanese space cooperation.” That cooperation dates back to 1969 when both countries signed a space cooperation agreement, and has continued through the decades with cooperation on the space shuttle, ISS and many space and Earth science programs, as well as aeronautics. Sato noted that since the 1990s, JAXA has expanded its cooperative activities and currently has 201 agreements in effect with 44 nations.
With respect to the future of human spaceflight, several panelists referred to the roadmap recently released by the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG). That report suggests that there is disagreement between the United States, which plans to send astronauts to an asteroid as the next step beyond low Earth orbit, and the other ISECG members who want to focus on the Moon. Tabache urged that people not get “stuck on the destination.” What is important, she said, is that everyone agrees that it will be an international endeavor: “We’re going somewhere [and] we’re going together.” Navigating international partnerships is “not going to be easy, but it’s going to happen,” she said. Bress commented that it is “not about destination, but a common point of reference.” Mackey noted that Canada currently chairs ISECG, but the Canadian government is reviewing its space policy so CSA is in a “wait and see” mode.
As for the key factors needed for successful international cooperation, Bress cited the ability to communicate effectively across cultures. ESA’s Tabache agreed, but added “trust is vital.” Sato emphasized that a “strong commitment is important,” while Mackey stressed that one lesson that has been learned is that international space partnerships “don’t save money, but they work.”
UPDATE 3, 8:23 pm ET: Launch went off as (re)scheduled at 8:15 pm ET.
UPDATE 2, 7:19 pm ET: They've picked up the count. Launch will be about 8:15 pm ET.
UPDATE, 7:05 pm ET: The launch has been delayed while they work an issue with one of the tracking stations in North Carolina. The station is part of the range safety system, so must be working for the launch to take place. The problem reportedly has been resolved and verification testing is underway. The launch window is open until 9:15 pm tonight. Weather is 100 percent favorable for launch. Follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline to keep up to date.
Orbital Sciences Corporation is getting ready to launch the Air Force's ORS-3 mission at 7:30 pm ET from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia, which should be viewable along the East Coast. NASA just tweeted a totally awesome photo of the rocket on the pad at sunset.
Now THAT's a photo-op!
Photo credit: NASA
The Minotaur I rocket will loft 29 satellites into orbit at once. The launch window is open from 7:30 - 9:15 pm ET. Maps showing where to look to see the launch are on Orbital's website. Weather permitting, it could be visible from northern Florida to southern Canada, and as far west as Indiana.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report yesterday with a list of 103 ways to reduce the deficit over the next decade. Among them is terminating the human spaceflight program.
CBO is part of Congress and primarily supports the House and Senate Budget Committees and "scores" legislation to inform Congress of the economic implications of passing any bill headed to the floor for debate. It also provides analysis on a broad range of topics, offering options, but not policy recommendations.
This report, Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2014-2023, comes at a time when the House and Senate Budget Committees are meeting in conference to try to resolve the impasse over how to reduce the deficit. As part of the deal last month to reopen the government and pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the government through January 15, 2014, the conference committee is supposed to complete its work by December 13.
CBO lists 103 options, of which 28 would affect "discretionary spending," the category in which NASA funding resides. Of those 28, nine relate to defense programs, five to transportation, and the remainder to a wide variety of programs, one of which is "eliminate human space exploration programs." CBO calculates the nation would save $73 billion between 2015 and 2023 by terminating "NASA's human space exploration programs and space operations programs, except for those necessary to meet space communications needs (such as communications with the Hubble Space Telescope)."
The report offers brief (1-2 page) explanations of the pros and cons of adopting any of the 103 options. For human space exploration, CBO's analysis identifies the primary "pro" as advances in electronics and information technology "have generally reduced the need for humans to fly into space" -- basically that robotic spacecraft are sufficient. The primary "cons" are that terminating human spaceflight in low Earth orbit would "end the technical progress necessary to prepare for human missions to Mars" and "there may be some scientific advantage" to humans performing research aboard the International Space Station. The report does not mention the international implications of terminating the human space exploration program.
How much influence the report will have on the budget conference committee's deliberations is open for debate. The fate of the conference committee itself is up in the air. Though it has a December 13 deadline, it seems that little progress is being made.
With the MAVEN mission safely on its way to Mars, attention can now turn to another interesting launch coming up tomorrow. This one will give people along the East Coast another chance to see an orbital launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia and this one will put 29 satellites into orbit at once.
The primary purpose is to launch an Air Force Space Test Program satellite (STPSat3) as part of the Pentagon's Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program. STPSat3 is a technology demonstration mission. The ORS program is intended to demonstrate the ability to build and launch satellites to meet specific needs in less time than traditional satellites. This is third in the series and the overall mission is designated ORS-3.
Weather permitting, the launch at 7:30 pm Eastern Standard Time (EST) should be visible along a wide swath of the East Coast from northern Florida to southern Canada and as far west as Indiana. Orbital Sciences Corporation has posted several maps on its website showing the areas where it will be visible if the weather cooperates.
Source: Orbital Sciences Corporation website
Orbital provides the Minotaur rockets, which use refurbished Minuteman II motors for the first and second stages. Several versions of Minotaur are available. The one being launched tomorrow is a Minotaur I, which has two additional commercially-provided motors. Minotaur I is a relatively small space launch vehicle that can put just 580 kilograms (about 1,300 pounds) into low Earth orbit, but in an era of tiny "cubesats," it can launch quite a few at a time. Tomorrow's launch will take 28 cubesats into space along with STPSat3. A standard cubesat is 10 x 10 x 10 centimeters (designated as 1U for 1 unit), and several can be grouped together to provide more volume. 1U, 2U and 3U cubesats are common.
Bob Christy at zarya.info has a list of them. Some are military, some are from NASA, some are from universities (many built through NASA's ELaNa program), and one is from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, reportedly the first cubesat built by high school students. Orbital partnered with the high school to build the satellite and describes it as a phonetic voice synthesizer that can convert text to voice and transmit the voice back to Earth over amateur radio frequencies.
The launch window is open from 7:30 - 9:15 pm EST (though some of the NASA webpages say 9:30 instead of 9:15). Wallops will provide launch coverage beginning at 6:30 pm EST via Ustream. Launch opportunities are available through November 26 if needed.
UPDATE: MAVEN lifted off on time at 1:28 pm ET.
ORIGINAL STORY: The weather appears to be holding for today's launch of NASA's MAVEN spacecraft to Mars. Launch is scheduled for 1:28 pm ET, with a two-hour launch window.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission is intended to go into orbit around Mars and provide more detail about its upper atmosphere and how the atmosphere evolved over time. Its goal is to answer questions about how much of the Martian atmosphere has been lost over time and interactions between the Martian atmosphere and the Sun.
It will be launched on an Atlas V to begin its 10 month journey to Mars. Weather at the launch site in Florida has been iffy, but appears to be cooperating at the moment. NASA TV is covering the launch live.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session.
During the Week
NASA's launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission on Monday at 1:28 pm ET should start the week off on a high note. Weather permitting, that is. The forecast is for a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions. The odds get worse on Tuesday and all fingers are crossed that the Atlas V will lift off sometime during the 2-hour launch window tomorrow (until 3:28 pm ET) and MAVEN will start the 10-month journey to Mars on time. NASA TV begins launch coverage at 11:00 am ET. A post-launch press conference is scheduled for approximately 2.5 hours after launch.
Also on Monday, the Senate is scheduled to try to begin debate on its version of the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill, S. 1197, was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on June 14.
The American Astronautical Society is hosting a panel discussion on international cooperation in space featuring officials from NASA and the Japanese, Canadian and European space agencies. The meeting is on Tuesday in 2325 Rayburn from 11:30 am - 1:30 pm.
The next day and just down the hall in 2318 Rayburn, the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on commercial space, with witnesses from the Satellite Industry Association and the Mojave Air and Space Port, but the appearances of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Dennis Tito, often called the first space tourist and now the man behind the Inspiration Mars concept of sending two people on a slingshot trajectory to Mars in 2018, are likely to draw the most attention. McCarthy's district includes Mojave.
Also on Wednesday, NASA is set to resume the Asteroid Initiative workshop that was interrupted on September 30 because of the government shut-down. It is scheduled for Wednesday-Friday back at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.
Here's the full list of events we know about as of Sunday afternoon, November 17.
Monday, November 18
Monday-Wednesday, November 18-20
Monday-Friday, November 18-22
Tuesday, November 19
Tuesday-Wednesday, November 19-20
Tuesday-Thursday, November 19-21
Wednesday, November 20
Wednesday-Friday, November 20-22
The New York Times (NYT) carries an interesting story today about an ongoing debate within U.S. policy circles about whether to allow Russia to install monitor stations for its GLONASS navigation satellite system on U.S. soil to improve its accuracy. The debate pits the State Department, which reportedly wants to say yes, against the U.S. defense and intelligence communities, which object to the idea. A government advisory board on U.S. and foreign navigation satellite systems was briefed on this topic in May and no questions appear to have been raised.
GLONASS is the Russian equivalent to the U.S. GPS system. The use of GPS is pervasive not only in the United States, but around the world and other countries are building their own systems. GPS and GLONASS are formally called positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) satellites. When fully operational, each system consists of a constellation of 24 satellites that provide three-dimensional (latitude, longitude, altitude) data anywhere on Earth as well as very precise timing signals. The term Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) is used to refer to these systems generically. In addition to the U.S. GPS and Russia's GLONASS, two other GNSS systems are under development -- China's Beidou and Europe's Galileo. Japan and India are developing regional systems (QZSS and IRNSS, respectively).
The gist of the debate reported by the NYT is that the accuracy of GNSS systems depends on reference stations around the globe that detect even slight changes in each satellite's orbit so data can be corrected and measurements kept extremely accurate. Russia wants to emplace some of these reference, or monitor, stations on U.S. territory. The NYT story says the State Department wants to permit Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, to build monitor stations here to "help mend the Obama administration's relationship with the government of President Vladimir V. Putin, now at a nadir" after Russia gave asylum to Edward Snowden. The story continues that the CIA and the Defense Department "are waging a campaign" to stop it for fear it will give Russia "a foothold on American territory that would sharpen the accuracy of Moscow's satellite-steered weapons" and "give the Russians an opening to snoop on the United States within its borders." It quotes the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), as wondering "why the United States would be interested in enabling a GPS competitor, like Russian Glonass [sic], when the world's reliance on GPS is a clear advantage to the United States on multiple levels."
The NYT says Russian and American negotiators last met on April 25.
A SpacePolicyOnline.com review of the minutes of the most recent (May 7-8, 2013) meeting of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Advisory Board, which provides independent advice to the government about GPS/GNSS issues, found many discussions of GLONASS in a variety of contexts. Among them was a briefing by Dave Turner, Deputy Director of the State Department's Office of Space and Advanced Technology. One of his slides clearly states that U.S. objectives in working with other countries' systems is to "ensure compatibility," "achieve interoperability," and "promote fair competition in the global marketplace." Those objectives will be pursued through "bilateral and multilateral cooperation." According to the minutes, he told the Board that discussions with Russia on those topics "began in 1996 and currently involve the potential of hosting of GLONASS ground monitoring and laser tracking stations on U.S. territory." The minutes, which appear to be quite detailed, indicate no questions from or comments by Board members on that point.
The Board is chaired by James Schlesinger, who has held many high-level government jobs including Secretary of Defense and Director of the CIA and is now chairman of the MITRE Corporation. The Board's Vice Chair is Stanford's Brad Parkinson, who is considered the "father" of GPS. Its next meeting is scheduled for December 4-5, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Four meetings in Washington, D.C. over this past week addressed the future of space exploration, but no unified message emerged. There was a focus on the role of the entrepreneurial NewSpace private sector and public-private partnerships, but also on the traditional model of government contracting with major aerospace companies.
Integrating what all of the prominent individuals involved in these events wanted the public and policymakers to hear is challenging. That is not to imply that the organizers – a potpourri of government and non-government institutions -- intended there to be an integrated message from four separate events, but in an era when a cohesive rationale for and approach to space exploration is needed, such an outcome would have been helpful.
Instead, it was more of a scattershot experience. Four events featuring a variety of new and established players arguing in favor of space exploration from various viewpoints. Here’s a quick rundown.
Beyond Earth: Removing Barriers to Space Exploration
Tuesday morning, three organizations joined forces for an event at the Newseum, a popular museum about the news located a few blocks from Capitol Hill. Bill Gerstenmaier, head of the NASA’s human exploration program, and representatives of four major contractors building NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew spacecraft – ATK, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing and Lockheed Martin -- made the case for SLS/Orion, which is being implemented through traditional government contracting methods.
The event was sponsored by the George C. Marshall Institute and TechAmerica’s Space Enterprise Council. The two often co-sponsor discussions about a broad range of civil, commercial and national security space topics. Joining them this time was the Coalition for Space Exploration, a group representing the major traditional aerospace companies (the four listed above plus Astrium Americas and Northrop Grumman).
The meeting’s basic messages were: SLS and Orion are progressing well, but sustainability is key – stable funding is needed; SLS and Orion can meet a variety of goals, not just sending people to Mars; and international cooperation is critical for exploration, but the United States must lead.
NASA-Bigelow Aerospace Media Availability
Tuesday afternoon, Gerstenmaier appeared again, this time with millionaire Robert Bigelow, President of Bigelow Aerospace (BA), in a hotel a few blocks from the Newseum. The purpose was to release a report written by BA, one of the NewSpace companies partnering with NASA using non-traditional mechanisms. This report, for example, was written as part of an unfunded Space Act Agreement with NASA.
The report presents Mr. Bigelow’s personal views on the government/private sector relationship in space exploration and the need for clarity on the issue of property rights in space, a discussion of the value of NASA’s commercial cargo model for future human space exploration, and a set of charts summarizing U.S. and foreign space systems already available or in development to implement human space exploration.
Two messages came across. First, BA wants to partner with NASA in space exploration, but its major interest is the Moon. BA is building inflatable modules that could be used as habitats on the lunar surface with the primary objective of mining the Moon. The second message was that BA plans to ask the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation to begin a process to clarify, domestically and internationally, what the rules of the road will be for commercial activities on the Moon. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty precludes national sovereignty in space, meaning that no one owns the Moon, thereby raising arguments about whether commercial activities generally, or lunar resource extraction specifically, are precluded.
NASA, of course, is not planning to send people to the lunar surface, so the relevance of this report and its property rights theme to NASA’s goals is not entirely clear. Separately, however, NASA and BA have an agreement to attach one of BA’s inflatable modules to the International Space Station as a test, and the modules could be used for purposes other than lunar surface operations.
NASA Press Conference on the Success of COTS
The third event was Wednesday’s NASA press conference on the success of the commercial cargo (COTS) program. Officials from NASA and its COTS partners, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation, gave themselves and each other a pat on the back. The overall theme was that this new public-private partnership paradigm is working.
Space Exploration: How and Why
Fourth was a meeting entitled “Space Exploration: How and Why” sponsored by Arizona State University (ASU) at the National Press Club on Friday. No current NASA officials were among the seven panelists, but four were former NASA officials who mostly have moved on to NewSpace companies or academia. The theme of this discussion was that the government cannot and should not do it all. Partnerships within and among government, the private sector, philanthropists and academia are needed to navigate the road ahead.
One of the former NASA officials was Lori Garver, NASA’s Deputy Administrator until two months ago. Unlike the others, she did not go to NewSpace or academia, but now heads the Air Line Pilots Association. Steve Isakowitz, Laurie Leshin, and Jon Morse were the other former NASA officials. Isakowitz was NASA’s Comptroller and later Deputy Associate Administrator (DAA) for Exploration; he is now President of Virgin Galactic. Leshin is another former DAA for Exploration who is now Dean of Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Morse is the former Director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division. He also joined RPI (he and Leshin are married), but left the university recently to found the BoldlyGo Institute to raise private/philanthropic funding for space science research. The other three panelists were the Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s Alex Saltman, Ball Aerospace’s Debra Facktor Lepore, and ASU Professor Ariel Anbar.
Moderator Jim Bell, an ASU professor and President of the Planetary Society, asked the seven panelists to respond to two questions. The first, “what is the value in exploring space,” directly flowed from the meeting’s title. The second question and the majority of the discussion dealt with the topic more indirectly, focusing on what academia should be doing to train scientists, engineers and other professionals for the space program of the future.
Garver responded to the “value” question by saying that the government’s job is to return benefit to the public because it is the public’s money. She cited Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s explanation that the country agrees to spend the kind of money needed for human space exploration because of “fear, greed and glory.” The government needs to invest in technologies to enable the private sector to flourish, and as for those who argue that politics should not play a role in decisions about the space program, she said the best way to get politics out of space is to open up markets.
Several of the panelists talked about the inspirational value of space exploration. Some reiterated the long standing argument that space exploration inspires young people to study STEM fields, which is important for the nation’s economic future. Isakowitz and Saltman, however, suggested that the NewSpace sector is inspiring people today more than NASA. Saltman said there is a sense in his generation that the space program has become “stale” and a growing recognition that NASA no longer is the only place to do innovative things. It is not about what excites “us,” he said, but what excites the 18-, 21- and 25-year-olds. Today’s paradigm where the government dominates the space enterprise is a Cold War artifact, he argued. Building telescopes to understand the universe were not government activities prior to the creation of NASA, he asserts, and while NASA is doing great things and should continue to do so, it is timely also to reinvigorate the prior model of relying on foundations and philanthropists.
Lepore, Leshin and Garver debated the importance of inspiration as a rallying cry for investing in space. Lepore proposed that inspiration be taken as a "given" and the focus instead be on explaining "why does what we do matter." Leshin, a geologist who headed ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies before joining NASA, disagreed that inspiration should be taken for granted. She told the story of how the announcement that a Martian meteorite might contain fossils captured headlines in 1996 and inspired many scientists to study meteorites, previously a niche field, and inspired people around the world. Garver, who was an adviser to NASA Administrator Dan Goldin at the time, countered that it had been a headline for only one day and the next day everybody went back to what they were doing and it made little difference. Leshin rejoined that it changed the way scientists study Mars.
Other interesting sound bites from the event:
Events of Interest