Public comments submitted, 2012 August 17, by Glenn A. Walsh for the National Research Council's independent study of NASA's Strategic Direction:
1. Name and identity
Former Astronomical Observatory Coordinator and Planetarium Lecturer, Original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh
I explained astronomy and the space sciences to the general public and to school groups, at Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium.
2. Contact information
3. NASA's Vision, Mission and Strategic Direction.
QUESTION: What is your understanding and opinion of NASA's current vision, mission and strategic direction? If you think NASA's vision, mission and strategic direction should be different from the above, please state what they should be and why.
As a publicly-funded agency, I regret that NASA's vision, mission, and strategic direction often fluctuates with the desires of the Federal Administration, Congress, and the American People. Yet, in a democracy it is certainly understandable, and I would even say desirable, that the people have proper oversight and direction over any publicly-funded agency, and certainly an agency as important as NASA.
I would suggest that it might improve the effectiveness of NASA if the Federal Administration and Congress would agree on a ten-year plan for NASA. Such a plan would satisfy the very legitimate need for proper public oversight and direction of NASA, while allowing NASA to better plan its projects and activities.
QUESTION: In your opinion, should NASA's annual budget (currently about $18 billion) be substantially increased, be substantially decreased, or remain at about the current level – and why? [In responding to this question, assume that an increase in NASA's budget would require reduction(s) elsewhere in the federal budget and, conversely, that a decrease in NASA's budget would enable increased funding elsewhere in the federal budget.]
Along with my suggestion in item number 3, the NASA budget should be agreed-to as part of a ten-year plan. Hence, NASA would be assured of how much money they have to plan their projects and activities.
With the shift to the promotion of a more robust commercial space program, which I completely agree with and strongly support, NASA's resources should shift to projects that would not likely be supported by a commercial space program. Primarily, this would be planetary space research and public education.
NASA should now concentrate on basic scientific research, which would provide the scientific knowledge needed for future expansion into the solar system. Most applied research should be left to the commercial space entities.
Hence, future NASA budgets (and the ten-year plan budget that I propose and support) should be based on NASA's needs for such a basic research thrust, as well as on their needs to effectively educate the public on the importance of our future in outer space.
5. Human Component of Space Exploration.
QUESTION: In your opinion, what is the relative value of a space exploration program (to low-Earth orbit and beyond) that includes humans as compared to a space exploration program that is conducted exclusively with robotic, uncrewed spacecraft and rovers? That is, to what extent does a human presence add value to a space exploration program, and is it worth the cost and risk?
Human exploration of outer space is extremely important to the future of our civilization. This is the reason I strongly support a robust, manned commercial space program. A government-only manned space program will not have the resources to move people into outer space as rapidly as I believe needs to happen. I wrote a short commentary on these views for the 2005 June issue of The Planetarian, the quarterly journal of the International Planetarium Society:
First, NASA should use its resources to maintain major space infrastructure investments already made by the United States of America. This would include the International Space Station and, possibly, the Hubble Space Telescope. The resources needed to access and use the International Space Station must be expended, to be sure these infrastructure investments will not be wasted.
NASA should consider contracting-out these duties to private vendors. A private vendor may be able to bring down the price to a more reasonable level, including another maintenance visit to Hubble.
Finally, NASA needs to spend more resources on determining how men and women can safely work and travel in space. Determining the facilities and strategies needed to ensure that the human body can safely work and travel in the space environment is extremely important for the future of mankind in space.
For instance, until "Star Trek"-type spaceship gravity can be invented, it may be wise to have people living on large space stations orbiting the Moon or Mars, which rotate to provide the needed gravity. These people would commute to the planet's surface for exploration, mining, and other scientific or commercial purposes and commute back to the space station at the end of their work day.
In addition to gravity, protection from cosmic rays is another major challenge to human use of space that NASA should spend resources to work on.
6. NASA Communications
QUESTION: Do you feel that NASA is very good, moderately good or not very good at communicating its vision, mission and strategic direction to its stakeholders, including the public? Why? How do you obtain information about NASA (TV news, websites, Twitter or other social media, etc.). If you think NASA's communication strategy needs improvement, what specifically do you recommend? Why?
I have been receiving news releases and other information from NASA since the 1970s, when I was General Manager of a very small, educational radio station near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia:
In addition to news releases, NASA sent us phonograph records which included the weekly radio program, "The Space Story," which was hosted by Willard Scott.
Additionally, they sent us a news release informing us that they would provide a toll-free telephone number for updated news reports regarding the Viking missions to Mars in 1976. So, we were able to inexpensively broadcast these NASA news reports to the summer campers of Camp Shaw-Mi-Del-Eca, the owner of this educational radio station.
I received similar support from NASA in the 1980s and early 1990s, when I was Astronomical Observatory Coordinator and a Planetarium Lecturer at Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science.
During the latter half of the 1990s, when I served as a Life Trustee on the Board of Trustees of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, I was able to obtain for the Library a free subscription to the monthly "NASA Tech Briefs" magazine.
So, I have been very pleased with NASA's commitment, over the years, to public education.
Today, I receive NASA news releases, including NASA Science News reports, through my e-mail subscriptions. I also visit NASA web sites frequently.
While I understand the limited resources available, I urge NASA to continue the public outreach I have experienced over the last 40 years. The future of our civilization is in outer space, and it is essential that the public understands that this is where, potentially, thousands of new jobs, both scientific and commercial, will be created.
7. International Collaboration
QUESTION: Should the United States conduct future human space exploration efforts on its own, like the Apollo program, or should the United States conduct such efforts as collaborative international efforts, like the International Space Station? If you recommend the latter approach, should the United States insist on taking the lead role? Why?
International collaboration in space and scientific exploration and research is always preferable, where possible. The International Space Station is an excellent example of how well such collaborations can work.
There may be some areas of space and science exploration and research where the United States of America should go it alone. National security would probably be the primary example of this. However, such national security space and science exploration and research should be conducted through DARPA, while NASA continues such research in non-national security areas.
At this point in time, I do think that the United States of America should take the lead in most international collaborations. As future use in outer space will result in, potentially, thousands of new jobs. I, certainly, would like to see a lot of those jobs going to Americans.
Further, as commercial and real estate developments begin to proliferate in outer space, I strongly believe that most of these developments should promulgate American values of democracy and free enterprise. Without American leadership, other political and economic systems could become predominant in outer space, such as China's system of authoritarianism and "state capitalism." This would be a tragedy for both the United States of America and for the future of mankind in outer space.
8. Commercial Space Ventures
QUESTION: Should NASA and the federal government continue current efforts to encourage the development of a commercial space industry as is, or should it either curtail or expand these efforts? What specific actions would you recommend? Why?
NASA and the Federal Government should absolutely expand efforts to encourage the development of a major commercial space industry. Outer space is our future, and the United States of America needs a major commercial space industry to successfully bring the benefits of space exploration and research to the American people.
Government space programs will never have the resources to truly exploit the opportunities of outer space. As with all other areas of society, it is important that government make the infrastructure and other investments necessary to allow commercial enterprises to blossom. Such a collaboration between government and industry will make a very promising future for mankind in space, as well as for the United States of America.
Source: Friends of the Zeiss
MORE INFORMATION ON NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL INDEPENDENT STUDY OF THE NASA STRATEGIC DIRECTION:
ALSO SEE FIRST BLOG POSTING:
Your Chance to Tell NASA What It Should Do>>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2012/08/your-chance-to-tell-nasa-what-it-should.html
Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
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* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
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