Exploring Space: Considering U.S. Goals and Aspirations for Its Space Exploration Programs

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Date(s) - 11/1/201212:00 am


Every few years it seems the civil space program reaches yet another turning point.  Indeed, NASA may have arrived at one again, barely two years after Congress passed, and the President signed, the last NASA Authorization Act into law in 2010.  The Obama Administration seems reluctant to pursue the Space Launch System as called for in the NASA Authorization Act; Congress appears unwilling to fund certain public-private partnerships in human spaceflight at levels requested by the Administration.  Meanwhile, as high profile programs face cost growth, the economic situation and trillion plus annual federal deficits over recent years make it unlikely that NASA will receive significant infusions of resources, barring a national decision to make its technological and scientific activities a higher priority.

While commentators, policymakers, commissions, and study groups have spilled barrels of ink arguing over “what” NASA should do, they pay less attention to the question of “why” it should exist in the first place.  Logically, however, it follows that one’s answer to the “why” question will affect the answer to a “what” question.  A program that exists primarily to answer scientific questions, for example, will differ from a program intended to open the solar system to human exploration and settlement.  Both will differ from a program focused on improving American economic competitiveness or the development of new technology for economic and security purposes.

On November 1, the George C. Marshall Institute invited individuals with a range of perspectives, experience, and ideas to offer their insights into these twin questions: “why” and “what.”


  • William B. Adkins, President, Adkins Strategies, LLC; Former Staff Director, House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics
  • Charles A. Miller, President, NexGen Space LLC; Co-founder, Nanoracks LLC
  • James A. Vedda, Senior Policy Analyst, The Aerospace Corporation; Author, Becoming Spacefarers: Rescuing America’s Space Program

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