For two decades, the United States was the undisputed leader in nearly all civilian space endeavors. However, over the last decade the United States has relinquished, or is relinquishing, its leadership in certain critical areas; one such area is the exploration of Mars. With the Mariner and Viking missions in the 1960s and 1970s, this country pioneered exploration of Mars-but no American spacecraft has visited that planet since 1976. Our current plans for future exploration of Mars include only the Mars Observer mission, to be launched in 1992. In contrast, the Soviets have announced a program of extensive robotic exploration of the Martian surface, beginning in 1988 and extending through the 1990s.
The Soviets are now the sole long-term inhabitants of low-Earth orbit. The first, and only, U.S. space station, Skylab, was visited by three crews of astronauts before it was vacated in 1974; the U.S. has had no space station since. The Soviets have had eight space stations in orbit since the mid-1970s. The latest, Mir, was launched in 1986 and could accommodate cosmonauts and scientific experiments for nearly a decade before the U.S. Space Station can accommodate astronauts in 1995.
The United States has clearly lost leadership in these two areas, and is in danger of being surpassed in many others during the next several years.
The National Space Policy of 1982, which “establishes the basic goals of United States policy,” includes the directive to “maintain United States space leadership.” It further specifies that “the United States is fully committed to maintaining world leadership in space transportation,” and that the civilian space program “shall be conducted ... to preserve the United States leadership in critical aspects of space science, applications, and technology.”
Leadership cannot simply be proclaimed - it must be earned. As NASA evaluates its goals and objectives within the framework of the National Space Policy, the agency must first understand what is required to “maintain U.S. space leadership,” since that understanding will direct the selection of national objectives.
Leadership does not require that the U.S. be preeminent in all areas and disciplines of space enterprise. In fact, the broad spectrum of space activities and the increasing number of spacefaring nations make it virtually impossible for any nation to dominate in this way. Being an effective leader does mandate, however, that this country have capabilities which enable it to act independently and impressively when and where it chooses, and that its goals be capable of inspiring others - at home and abroad - to support them. It is essential for this country to move promptly to determine its priorities and to make conscious choices to pursue a set of objectives which will restore its leadership status.
Leadership results from both the capabilities a country has acquired and the active demonstration of those capabilities; accordingly, the United States must have, and also be perceived as having, the ability to meet its goals and achieve its objectives.
A U.S. space leadership program must have two distinct attributes. First, it must contain a sound program of scientific research and technology development - a program that builds the nation’s understanding of space and the space environment, and that builds its capabilities to explore and operate in that environment. The United States will not be a leader in the 21st Century if it is dependent on other countries for access to space or for the technologies required to explore the space frontier. Second, the program must incorporate visible and significant accomplishments; the United States will not be perceived as a leader unless it accomplishes feats which demonstrate prowess, inspire national pride, and engender international respect and a worldwide desire to associate with U.S. space activities.
National pride and international prestige are two natural benefits of leadership in space. National pride grows as citizens recognize their country’s abilities and achievements; international prestige rises as other nations recognize those abilities and achievements.
Perhaps most significant, leadership is also a process. That process involves selecting and enunciating priorities for the civilian space program and then building and maintaining the resources required to accomplish the objectives defined within those priorities. NASA can contribute to this process by: (1) establishing a vision and goals consistent with national space interests; (2) developing and recommending objectives and programs that support those goals; (3) articulating, promoting, and defending them in the political and fiscal arenas; and (4) effectively executing approved programs.
To this end, NASA embarked last fall on a review of its goals and objectives. As NASA Administrator Dr. James Fletcher stated, “It is our intent that this process produce a blueprint to guide the United States to a position of leadership among the spacefaring nations of Earth.”
The first step in this necessarily lengthy process was taken by NASA Senior Management’s Strategic Planning Council when it adopted the statement in the box on the next page.
This statement reflects the belief that NASA embodies the human spirit's desire to discover, to explore, and to understand. It should be noted that the Space Shuttle and Space Station are not viewed as ends in themselves, but as the means toward achieving the broader goals of the nation’s space program. Transportation and orbital facilities support and enable our efforts in science, exploration, and enterprise.
The next step in this process should be to articulate specific objectives and to identify the programs required to achieve these objectives. Of course, in some areas of study the programs have already been identified and are well under way. For example, The Hubble Space Telescope, a general-purpose astronomical observatory in space, is an element of NASA’s program to increase our understanding of the universe in which we live; the redesign and requalification of the Space Shuttle’s solid rocket booster joint is part of NASA's program to return the Space Shuttle to flight status. However, in other areas, such as piloted exploration, our objectives have not been clearly identified. Does this country intend to establish a lunar outpost? To send an expedition to Mars? What are NASA’s major objectives for the late 20th and early 21st Centuries? The Space Shuttle and Space Station will clearly support the objectives, but what will they be supporting?
These questions cannot, Of course, be answered by NASA alone. But NASA should lead the discussion, propose technically feasible options, and make thoughtful recommendations. The choice of objectives will shape, among other things, NASA's technology program, the evolution of the Space Station, and the character of Earth-to-orbit transportation.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE IN AERONAUTICS AND SPACE
NASA’s vision is to be at the forefront of advancements in aeronautics, space science, and exploration. To set our course into the 21st Century and bring this vision to reality, NASA will pursue major goals which represent its aspirations in aviation and space.
These goals are:
Successful pursuit of these major quires commitment to the following supporting goals:
As NASA pursues these goals, we will: