“Choose to Steer, Not Drift”
Monday, 13 January 2014
By Duane Hyland, posted at 4:21 p.m. EST
Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, presented the AIAA Durand Lectureship in Public Policy to a crowded luncheon room today at SciTech 2014. His address, “American Space Strategy: Choose to Steer, Not Drift,” detailed the impending consequences of the nation’s inaction in steering the global space community. Pace analyzed critical failures in that regard, how these will eventually impact the U.S. in a post-American space era, and what the country must do to stop the drift and start steering again.
Other nations such as China and Russia, said Pace, are making committed and orchestrated advancements in deep space exploration. He pointed to China’s landing of a nuclear lunar rover, Russia’s continual endorsement of a return to the Moon, and efforts to design rovers in India and South Korea, countries that also are making exploration plans. Meanwhile the “U.S. has no plans for such endeavors,” said Pace.
He acknowledged that “human space exploration and human spaceflight will be driven by NASA’s budget.” The budget, he stressed, is a political choice; it is a reflection of what a society values. “That said, the fiscal limits are real and increasingly harsh, as budgets are pushed down and demand and risk increase,” said Pace. He underscored the role of public policy in U.S. space strategy, noting that the “essential elements to space exploration can be found in the administration’s 2010 overview of space exploration – with the asteroid mission taking priority. This declaration came as a surprise to many, as it followed the 2005 and 2008 congressional acts, which set the return to the Moon as the next goal for human exploration.
“The president’s lack of support for the Moon made lack of funding a reality,” said Pace. “And while the world looks at the Moon, the U.S. is looking at delivery of crew and cargo to LEO; and while cargo has been demonstrated by SpaceX and by Orbital, crew is a work in progress.” He emphasized the need for the government and its policy-makers to stay involved in this process. If the U.S. “leave[s] space solely to private firms, we run the risk that when there is a ‘bad day’ on the station, there would be no more market for private firms, leaving us in a lurch. Only committed partnerships with robust government/private components will work.”
Pace said his recent attendance at the International Astronautical Congress in Beijing gave him a glimpse of a space future in which “China, Brazil, the Ukraine and South Africa work together to create the future of space exploration, without U.S. leadership or guidance.
“While we have a proud legacy and rich history in space,” Pace continued, “this is not a substitute for leadership. It is now time to have a focused strategy and a context for these international efforts.
“We must start asking, what’s next? It’s not enough to have machines and technology that exist simply to exist; we have to start looking at the future, asking ourselves, where do we go, and why are we going, and then find the international partners willing to work with us on that mission,” he said. “Fully engaged, ongoing cooperation in the exploration of space is our nation’s future – we can no longer afford not to steer.”
Pace ended his talk recalling the conversation between Don Juan and the devil in George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman.” The devil asks Don Juan why he bothers to learn about himself, and Don Juan replies, “To be able to choose the line of greatest advantage, instead of yielding to the path of least resistance.” And therein is the difference, Pace said: “To drift is to be in hell, to be in heaven is to steer!”
(Image:Scott Pace, Director, Space Policy Institute, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University delivers keynote address, "“American Space Strategy: Choose to Steer, Not Drift.")