Scientists Should Advocate for Aggressive Human Spaceflight Program Says Former SSB Chair Len Fisk

Scientists Should Advocate for Aggressive Human Spaceflight Program Says Former SSB Chair Len Fisk

The science community should advocate for an aggressive human spaceflight program while at the same time defending its programs from being the source of money for it, according to Dr. Lennard Fisk, immediate past Chair of the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board (SSB). Dr. Fisk is a Distinguished University Professor of Space Science at the University of Michigan.

Arguing that space and earth science programs as well as human spaceflight programs need to be “transformative” to warrant funding, Dr. Fisk said:

“What posture then should the science community take relative to human spaceflight? The first posture is of course a defensive one. We may recognize that human spaceflight needs more money, but we have transformative goals of our own, and we do not wish to be the source of that money.

The second posture is an offensive one. We need to recognize that the current human spaceflight program is a drag on the reputation of the agency, and therefore on us, and offers little advantage to us. We should thus be advocates for a more aggressive human spaceflight program, which is capable of transforming our society, our economy, and our future. A human spaceflight program that is an essential component of our foreign policy, our economic future, and the inspiration of our people. And if such a program develops, there will be opportunities for synergies, and mutually supportive capabilities, and all this will be advantageous to us.”

Space and earth science programs like the Hubble Space Telescope, planetary exploration missions, and studies of the Sun and the Earth have transformed human understanding of our planet and the universe, he said. The Apollo program similarly was transformative, but the current human spaceflight program is not: “It is unlikely that the human spaceflight program will ever rise to the scientific transformational standard that we impose upon our robotic scientific program.” But he believes there are transformations that can come from the human spaceflight program that are geopolitical, economic, and inspirational.

Dr. Fisk spoke at a January 14 symposium jointly sponsored by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute (SPI) entitled Human Spaceflight and the Future of Space Science. These two components – sometimes described as warring factions – of the space community often are at odds.

A decision to reduce space and earth science funding by $3.1 billion over 5 years in the FY2007 budget exacerbated tensions. Many space and earth scientists believed that science programs were being robbed to pay for President George W. Bush’s “Vision for Space Exploration” to return humans to the Moon by 2020 and then go on to Mars. In September 2005, then-NASA Administrator Michael Griffin promised that he would not take “one thin dime” from science programs to pay for the Vision, but just a few months later the Bush Administration released NASA’s FY2007 budget request with its cut to science funding. Dr. Griffin repeatedly pointed out that he also had to reduce funding for the Exploration program by $1.5 billion, but that did not calm the scientific community.

The reductions for both science and Exploration were necessitated by funding requirements for the existing space shuttle and International Space Station programs, which had been underfunded in NASA’s budget forecasts.

Attempts to improve relationships between scientists and human spaceflight advocates have been ongoing by some of the leaders of those communities. The recent selection of Dr. Laurie Leshin – a space scientist – to be Deputy Associate Administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate may be another step in that direction.

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