National Academy of Sciences Soliciting Input on Human Space Flight

space flight 2I just received some interesting email about the NRC looking for input on human space flight. This is a great opportunity to let our voices be heard on an important issue, so please share this, and considering submitting a short input paper of your own.

From: David Brandt-Erichsen
Announcement of Opportunity to Submit Input to Study on Human  Spaceflight

Deadline is July 9

The U.S. National Research Council  (NRC) of the National Academy of
Sciences is currently  conducting a congressionally-requested study
to examine the  goals, core capabilities, and direction of human
space flight.  This study, which is being carried out by the NRC’s
Committee  on Human Spaceflight, will provide findings and
recommendations  to guide the U.S. human spaceflight enterprise in a
sustainable  manner. The Committee on Human Spaceflight recognizes
the  importance of reaching out to the communities interested in
human exploration and is using several approaches to solicit input
regarding the motivations, goals, and the possible evolution of
human spaceflight. One important source of input is this call  for
short papers from communities around the world with an  interest in
human spaceflight.

The Committee on Human  Spaceflight invites interested individuals
and groups to submit  input papers describing their own ideas on the
role of human  spaceflight and their vision for a suggested future.
In  developing their papers, respondents are asked to carefully
consider the following broad questions.

1. What are the important  benefits provided to the United States and
other countries by  human spaceflight endeavors?

2. What are the greatest challenges to  sustaining a U.S. government
program in human spaceflight?

3. What are the ramifications and what would the nation and  world
lose if the United States terminated NASA’s human  spaceflight

In discussing the above questions,  respondents are asked to describe
the reasoning that supports  their arguments and, to the extent
possible, include or cite  any evidence that supports their views. In
considering #1  above, submitters may consider private as well as
government  space programs.

This request for input papers is open to any and all  interested
individuals and groups. For more information on the  committee and
the goals of the study, please see the statement  of task at

Formatting  and Length Requirements

To facilitate document management, the Committee  asks that
submitters abide by the following formatting  guidelines:

• Input papers should not be more than 4 pages in length.  Papers can
include web links to other documents among the  references.

• Use a 10 or 12-pt font with 1-inch margins on all sides of  the

• Use Microsoft Word (.doc) or Adobe  Acrobat (.pdf). No other
formats will be accepted.

•  Authors are responsible for obtaining any permissions necessary to
use, or for the NRC to reproduce, copyrighted material.

• Position  papers must be less than 50 MB in size. For file
management  purposes, please compress your figures if this does not
detract  from the clarity of your white paper. You should feel free

to include hyperlinks to high resolution versions.

• A cover page can be  included (beyond the 4-page limit) that shows
the title of the  white paper, a short abstract, the primary author’s
name, phone  number, institution, and email address, and a list of
co-authors with their respective institutions.

Utilization of the  Papers

All submitted papers will be reviewed by the Committee on  Human
Spaceflight. Note that, because participants will be  self-selected,
these input papers will not be used to judge the  prevalence of
attitudes or opinions within various communities.  However, they will
help ensure that the committee hears about  important issues from
interested parties. The submitted papers  will also be available for
public viewing at All input papers will be considered non-proprietary for  distribution with attribution.

Submission Instructions

Please  submit your white paper by navigating to Clicking on the  appropriate link there which will take you to a page where you can upload your  input paper as instructed. You must agree to the copyright consent form on that  page before uploading your document. Doing so will ensure that your paper will  be reviewed by the committee and that your contribution will be made publicly  available.

Submissions must be made through by no later than July  9, 2013. All submitted white papers will be made public.


What do you think? Should we pursue human space flight, or leave it to the robots?


Mr. Candidate, What About Space?

Neil Armstrong walks on the moon.

The United States asserted its position as the leading technological power in the world on July 20, 1969. Up until then, it had been in doubt, as the Soviet Union set one first after another in space, but on that day, the Eagle Landed and an American became the first human being to walk on the moon. That American, Neil Armstrong, died the other day, and as we head into the presidential elections, the question we have to ask the candidates is whether our technological dominance in general, and our space program in particular, are once again in doubt.

Mock-up of Curiosity rover on Mars.

It might seem like an odd time to ask that question. NASA’s Curiosity rover is sending back high resolution images of the planet Mars even as you read this, and is potentially on the verge of untold discoveries about our neighboring planet, but we have to remind ourselves that the most recent budget proposal from the Obama White House slashed $1 Billion dollars from NASA’s funding. That’s a 5% cut. It reduces the budget of the Planetary Science Division, the part of the agency responsible for the Hubble Space Telescope, the Cassini spacecraft, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and, yes, the Curiosity Rover, by over 20%.

It’s also important to realize that we aren’t the only ones with extraterrestrial aspirations. A new space race is underway. Russia, China, India, Japan and Europe all have active space programs, and they have their eyes on the moon. The Japanese and the Indians have proposed manned lunar missions as early as 2020. That might seem overly ambitious, but compare it to our own efforts. We were the first to set foot on the moon, but we haven’t been back since 1972. Recently NASA developed the Constellation Program, to establish a permanent moon base by 2024. Unfortunately, the funding for it was cut.

Neil Armstrong aboard Apollo 11.

The future of NASA and our future in space will likely be determined by whoever wins the November election, so with that in mind, what is each candidate’s vision for our space program? When speaking to the press about Neil Armstrong, President Obama described him as, “among the greatest of American heroes – not just of his time, but of all time.” Later, he continued, “Today, Neil’s spirit of discovery lives on in all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploring the unknown – including those who are ensuring that we reach higher and go further in space. That legacy will endure – sparked by a man who taught us the enormous power of one small step,”

Beyond such lofty rhetoric, however, neither candidate has laid out specific proposals for NASA during the current election. In a 2009 speech, Obama spoke of his vision for the future, “Early in the next decade, a set of crewed flight will test and prove the systems required for exploration beyond low Earth orbit, and by 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed mission beyond the moon into deep space. We’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history. By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it.” It should be noted that this speech took place before the current round of deficit reduction mania. Since that speech, as was noted earlier, NASA’s budget has been cut significantly.

For his part, Mitt Romney also heaped praise upon Armstrong. Saying, “With courage unmeasured and unbounded love for his country, he walked where man had never walked before. The moon will miss its first son of earth,” Despite this high praise, Romney, unlike his primary opponent, Newt Gingrich, hasn’t articulated a bold plan for human space. Instead, back in January, he told an audience at Cape Canaveral during a brief 15 minute speech, “So I’m not going to come here today and tell you precisely what the mission will be. I’m going to tell you how I’m going to get there.” In order to do that, he pledged to gather together a team of experts from NASA and the worlds of defense, academia and industry to evaluate various proposals. He said they “will talk about each of those missions, each of those objectives, and then determine which mission for NASA, which mission for space, will most effectively carry out those missions.”

Maybe it’s too much to expect presidential candidates to lay out their plans for the space program when everyone’s eyes are on the economy, but it’s up to us to remind them that science and space exploration are vital to the American economy too. NASA employs thousands of Americans. When the Space Shuttle program ended, 9,000 jobs were lost. Putting those highly trained people back to work would help stimulate a sluggish economy. In addition, millions of people have benefited from the spin-off technologies that came from NASA. Thousands of men and women went into the fields of science and engineering because they were inspired by the brave steps that Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts took. If we’re going to follow in their footsteps, it will require vision and leadership from whoever our next president is.

Why Science Should Matter to Voters

Romney & Obama compete for votes.

The presidential campaign season is in full swing, and Mitt Romney and President Obama are both loudly declaring that their vision for the future is the one that’s best for America. Meanwhile, you and I are stuck trying to make a decision, in what may be the most consequential election in a generation, based almost entirely on news reports and editorials from a media obsessed with horse race analogies and the latest gaffe de jour. In such a substantive vacuum, it’s little wonder that science gets short shrift.

Romney advisers Eric Fehrnstrom & Stuart Stevens.

Of course, neither candidate is a scientist or has any significant scientific background, and they don’t claim to. Each is also surrounded by campaign staffs more knowledgeable about swing states than states of matter. When they talk “spin” it has nothing to do with the properties of subatomic particles. The next president of the United States, however, will be making decisions over the next four years, on scientific topics ranging from global warming and alternative energy sources to cancer research and our future in space. Those decision will fundamentally affect the lives and well being of not just the current electorate, but of our children’s lives and their children’s children.

Romney adviser Kevin Madden & Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.

We could rely on reporters to ask the candidates questions about science and how their proposed policies would affect it, but most reporters don’t have much in the way of a science background either. For many, it’s been years, if not decades, since they took their last science class. They frequently aren’t up to date on recent discoveries or facts buried in scientific journals, and so when one campaign makes a scientific claim, the reporters accept it, because they don’t have the knowledge base needed to challenge it. Instead, they frequently try to conceal their scientific inadequacies by giving coverage to an “expert” from both sides of the controversy, even when there is no controversy among qualified scientists in the field. Take the recent “debates” over the safety of vaccines or climate change as examples.

What that all means is, that it’s up to us. We have to educate ourselves about science, so when one of the campaigns makes a claim, we can tell what’s real science and what’s hokum. If the reporters are unable to unwilling to ask tough questions related to science, then we need to do it for them. Mr. Candidate, what do you think is the best way to reduce carbon emissions and what will your administration do about it? How will your policies affect funding for basic scientific research? Do you believe students should learn about evolution? Should we continue exploring space?

To get the process rolling, the Mad4Scienc blog will be spending the next several weeks exploring some of the scientific issues that are important to Americans. I’ll be looking at the issues and wherever possible each candidate’s positions on them. One thing to keep in mind though is that the universe is big, and there’s a whole lot of science out there. To do this job right, I need your help. What scientific issues do you think are most important? If you had the chance to ask each candidate a question, what would it be? You can leave questions in the comments section of the blog or tweet them to me on Twitter at mad4science. Remember, science is all about asking questions and methodically looking for answers.

Believers in a Better Tomorrow

“The belief that we belong on the cutting edge of innovation, that’s an idea as old as America itself. We’re a nation of tinkerers and dreamers and believers in a better tomorrow.”

– President Barack Obama speaking during the 2nd White House Science Fair


Rarely have truer words been spoken, and certainly never at a more appropriate time. This week marks the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s historic journey into space on board Friendship 7, part of the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission. Glen orbited the Earth 3 times in the course of his 4 hour and 56 minute flight, becoming the 1st American to travel into orbit. Although Yuri Gagarin deserves the honor of being the 1st human in space, Glenn’s flight was nonetheless one of the major events of the 20th century. It boldly embodied what Obama meant when he called us “a nation of tinkerers and dreamers and believers in a better tomorrow.” It’s puzzling then, in this time when we should be celebrating the heroic accomplishments of space pioneers and the White House is highlighting the talent and scientific brilliance of our young people, that President Obama chose this moment to slash the NASA budget.

The president’s budget cuts funding for NASA by over a $1 billion, a 5% decrease. It cuts 20% from the Planetary Science Division. That’s the part of NASA that’s been responsible for some of the greatest scientific discoveries in recent history. It’s long list of accomplishments include the Hubble Space Telescope, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), and the Cassini Spacecraft, not to mention multiple Martian rovers and finding strong evidence for the presence of water on both Mars and the Moon. If we’re to learn about the wonders of the universe, reach beyond the Earth and explore the possibility of life beyond our own planet, then the Planetary Science Division of NASA is our best hope of doing so, or at least it was. The proposed cuts put PSD’s mission if grave danger.

It’s easy to make the argument that space exploration is all well and good, but we can’t afford it in this economy, but that’s a false argument. NASA’s budget for 2011 was $18.7 billion, reduced to $17.7 billion in 2012. That sounds like an obscene amount of money, until you put it in perspective of the $3.5 trillion federal budget, and compare it to other things we spend money on. In 2010, the combined cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for that year alone was $170 billion, approximately 10 times the cost of the NASA budget. Even though most of the money was paid back, the bank bailout is still conservatively estimated to cost taxpayers $19 billion. Over the next 10 years the cost of the Bush era tax cuts is expected to be $3.7 trillion, almost 20 times NASA’s budget over the same period. We can afford space exploration a lot more easily than we can afford any of those.

Another common argument made against NASA is that instead of wasting money in space we should be creating jobs here at home. Again, this sounds good until you start to examine the claim in detail. When the Space Shuttle program ended, NASA lost 9,000 jobs. That figure only includes jobs lost directly by the space agency. It doesn’t include the suppliers, support services or jobs of people in the communities that serve NASA employees. Cutting NASA funding not only hampers our scientific efforts, but it costs American jobs. As Scott Hubbard, a member of the NASA Advisory Council Science Committee put it,

“Loss of human capital is an immediate and very serious risk. I just gave a lecture at NASA where I pointed out how close we are to really answering this question of, “Was there ever life on Mars?” We’ve built up the scientific momentum and we’ve got the instruments, the spacecraft, the direction to go and do this. And when you take something like this apart, the scientists go elsewhere. You lose the capability, the momentum and the knowledge that you’ve built up.”

Perhaps the best reason though for funding NASA isn’t the jobs or the scientific prestige it creates today, but what it offers the future. There are several generations of scientists and engineers who can trace their excitement about science directly to watching John Glenn and the other Mercury 7 astronauts venture into space. When the Apollo astronauts walked on the moon it gave young Americans a vision of what was possible. They took that vision, nurtured it and built upon it, and used it to create the foundation of the modern society we enjoy today. Every time we consult our smart phones or GPS devices, or diagnose illnesses with high tech medical imaging, or save a life because someone was able to get a severe weather warning in time, we are benefitting from the fruits of space science. Cutting funding for that today may be politically expedient, but it short changes future generations. It’s a betrayal of all those believers in a better tomorrow.