Decadal Survey for Human Spaceflight?

by Nancy Atkinson on March 23, 2011

Cover of Augustine Commision Report. We're still seeking a human spaceflight program

Over at Space Politics, Jeff Foust points out that a provision for an independent study about human spaceflight was quietly included in last year’s NASA authorization act. The parameters of such a study would be similar to the decadal surveys done by the astronomy and planetary science disciplines. Foust reports that last week such a concept for human spaceflight was debated at a small conference where NASA’s Phil McAlister from the Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation said, “I believe in this Academies-like study that will allow the human spaceflight community to come together, like the science community has done for years and years, effectively. With that kind of document and blueprint… then finally, maybe, we can get the long-term consensus required to actually finish one of these programs. That is my sincere hope.”

Would such a study be helpful in giving U.S. human spaceflight unwavering direction and goals that don’t change with each presidential administration?

The debate is continuing in the comment section on Foust’s article and on Twitter, and so far the lines are divided between this being a good idea or one that would never work for human spaceflight.

Some comments suggest this type of survey would be just another exercise on paper that will accomplish nothing – and would be a repeat of the Stafford Report or the Augustine Commission, where programs and direction is suggested, but since it isn’t “law” politicians would ignore it in favor of projects in their own districts.

Others said there isn’t a strong figure in human spaceflight, such as a Steve Squyres who led the recent planetary decadal survey (although someone suggested Wayne Hale or Bill Gerstenmaier).

On the other side of the debate, still others said that some kind of consensus review is needed in order to direct NASA’s priorities with human space flight, as there has been no clear sustainable direction since the decision to build the ISS. Someone suggested this would be helpful for the international partner, as well, to know what NASA might do next.

What are your views – would a decadal survey for US human spaceflight be a good idea?


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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