Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 6: Conclusion

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”
–John F. Kennedy

In Parts 1 through 5, I covered Nationalism, Commerce, Science, Saving the Earth, and Settlement as value propositions for human spaceflight, and pointed out the challenges for each that must be addressed to make each an enduring VP.  Today I conclude the examination on value propositions for human spaceflight.


Conclusion. Since I’ve gone to the trouble to propose a series of value propositions for human spaceflight, what now?  What good is there in listing a bunch of potential value propositions?

One point I’d like to make is based on a comment that Scott Pace told me in a one-on-one conversation when he was an Associate Administrator at NASA: “People self-select into NASA because they believe in the mission.”  My interpretation of that statement is that people naturally, perhaps even unconsciously, seek an alignment of one’s core values with that of the organization. One could pose that an enduring value proposition is one in which the majority of stakeholders have core values aligned with the organization’s value proposition; conversely, a value proposition won’t endure if people don’t share it.  Additionally, when value propositions are challenged or are changed, we end up with divides and perceived uncertainty of purpose.  Such is the case today with NASA and human spaceflight.

Why do I say that?  Let me illustrate by bringing to the table the stakeholders in NASA, and I’ll focus on two in particular: the Executive Office of the President (which I’ll simply call “the President” from this point forward), and the Congress.

The President, through the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Security Council, establishes space policy for the Department of Defense, NASA and various intelligence agencies.  Additionally, the President, through the Office of Management and Budget, proposes implementation through the budget process in cooperation with the respective federal departments, agencies and offices (of which NASA is one), which is released as “the President’s Budget” in early February of each year for the coming fiscal year.

Similarly, with the Congress, we have a roughly analogous framework.  Congress establishes the “letter of the law” for NASA through various authorization acts.  Finally, Congress issues appropriations to federal agencies and offices, which provides the money for operations of the Government.

For human spaceflight, we can illustrate the above in a two-by-two grid, as follows:

Policy/Law Implementation/Budget
Executive: President National Space Policy of 2010 President’s FY2011 Budget Request for NASA
Legislative: Congress NASA Authorization Act of 2010 NASA Appropriations for FY2011

Note that we have a series of fairly recent instruments at hand, which is fairly unique, actually.  (In recent decades, space policy is usually provided once every Presidential administration, and Authorization acts happen roughly every 3-5 years.)  What I wanted to explore is how the value propositions for human spaceflight are represented in each of the above.  What follows is my subjective take, based on being an insider but also based on my interpretation of each of the aforementioned documents.  You may not agree with me, and that’s fine.  This is my scorecard and my opinion, and you are most welcome to your opinion or to make your own scorecard.

I’m using the following system to express the degree to which the listed documents supports the five value propositions:

  • Green – Supports to a large extent
  • Yellow – Supports to a medium extent
  • Orange – Supports to a small extent
  • Red – Doesn’t support at all


Policy/Law Implementation/Budget
President Green Orange
Congress Green Yellow

Rationale:  Large Government-led human spaceflight programs are the manifestation of the Nationalism value proposition, and have been for the past 50 years dating back to President Kennedy.  The National Space Policy reaffirms the principle of strong US leadership in space (but as a policy document, it does not define which parts of the Government do what).  The President’s FY2011 Budget cancelled Constellation and did not provide a firm next human spaceflight program.  Congress established the Multi Program Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System as law in the Authorization Act of 2010.  The budget for FY2011, representing a modified continuing resolution of FY2010, falls short of the influx of capital needed to develop the aforementioned systems.  The coming budget for FY2012 falls even shorter, and guidance for FY2013 hit the streets a few days ago directing each agency to plan an additional 5 to 10% reduction in 2013.

Observation: I’m not passing judgment on whether a Nationalism value proposition is the right one for human spaceflight.  I merely point out that it was the predominant one at the start of NASA fifty years ago, yet the instruments of today’s policy and implementation are in schism with respect to this value proposition.  The greatest divide is left-to-right in the diagram above, representing a problem in implementation where both the President and Congress are asking NASA to do more than it can with the funds allocated.  Basically, neither are “putting their money where their mouth is” for the future of human spaceflight based on a Nationalism value proposition.


Policy/Law Implementation/Budget
President Green Green
Congress Yellow Orange

Rationale: The National Space Policy specifically references the principle of a robust and competitive commercial space sector as being vital to continued progress in space.  The President’s FY2011 Budget called for investing $6 billion over five years to spur the development of American commercial human spaceflight vehicles.  The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 authorized roughly $500 million per year for the three years of the Act, or roughly half the amount in the President’s budget request. The actual budget for FY2011, representing a modified continuing resolution of FY2010, is more or less in line with authorization; however, keep in mind the guidance provided by OMB for FY2013 I mentioned earlier.  This likely will cause a problem between authorization and appropriations in the coming years.

Observation:  The greatest divide is between top and bottom – between the President and the Congress – where it appears the President is placing a greater emphasis on the Commerce value proposition than is the Congress.


Policy/Law Implementation/Budget
President Yellow Yellow
Congress Yellow Yellow

Rationale:  Policy and implementation provides for the International Space Station, with its extension to 2020 and potentially beyond.  None of the instruments provides for any other human spaceflight-based Science of the type described in the value proposition (human-tended research facilities on the moon or Mars), beyond the International Space Station.

Observation:  There is no meaningful divide between the President and the Congress on the near-term Science value proposition.

Saving the Earth.

Policy/Law Implementation/Budget
President Red Red
Congress Red Red

Rationale:  Policy and implementation makes no mention of space-based solar power.

Observation:  Space-based solar power has not gained sufficient traction to make its way into policy or implementation instruments.


Policy/Law Implementation/Budget
President Red Red
Congress Red Red

Rationale:  Policy and implementation makes no mention of space settlements.

Observation:  Settlement has not gained sufficient importance as a driving value proposition to make its way into policy or implementation instruments.

Summary and Conclusion.

Here is the summary of the above scorecards:

Human Spaceflight Value Proposition President’s FY2011 Budget Request for NASA National Space Policy of 2010 NASA Authorization Act of 2010 NASA Appropriations for FY2011 Taxpayers
Nationalism Orange Green Green Yellow
Commerce Green Green Yellow Orange
Science Yellow Yellow Yellow Yellow
Saving the Earth Red Red Red Red
Settlement Red Red Red Red

We have a conflict between the importance of the Nationalism value proposition where it is valued in policy/law yet not supported by implementation, and a conflict in Commerce between the President and the Congress.  This divide tugs NASA in multiple directions, and causes confusion and uncertainty with other stakeholders.  Which way are we going?  When will a clear enough direction be obtained so that we can move forward?

Lastly, please note that I put a blank column to the right, labeled Taxpayers.  You are a stakeholder, too.  Which of the value propositions are important to you?

Text © 2011, Joe Williams.  All rights reserved.
Photo credit: iStockphoto/JuSun

Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 6: Conclusion