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July 30, 2009 Vol. 2, Issue 7


Communication is essential to enhance the relevance of space to address national needs and to convey its importance to the public, witnesses told the House Committee on Science and Technologys Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics on July 16, 2009.

The hearings coincided with the release of a pre-publication version of the National Academies’ report Americas Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs. Testifying before the Subcommittee, General (Ret.) Lester L. Lyles, Chair of the National Academies’ Committee on the Rationale and Goals of the U.S. Civil Space Program, summarized the report’s key findings. “The committee found that, in spite of their promise and utility, components of the civil space program are not always aligned to fully capitalize on opportunities to serve the larger national interest,” he said. “Decisions about civil space priorities, strategies, and programs, and the resources to achieve them, are not always made with a conscious view toward their linkages to broader national interests.”

Gen. Lyles noted that the report articulates six goals for the U.S. civil space program: to re-establish leadership to protect the planet; sustain its science leadership by better understanding the universe and finding extra-terrestrial life; expand upon the frontiers of human space activity; work to solve the nation’s pressing issues; inspire the public; and be a leader in the world through our space activities. The report also recommends that NASA should revitalize its advanced technology program by establishing a DARPA-like organization to generate technologies capable of fulfilling civil and defense interests.

Ms. Patti Grace Smith of the Space Foundation drew attention to the extent to which space-enabled technologies ranging from mobile phone service to advanced weather forecasting are a part of everyday life in American society. A day without space-generated benefits would be “a shocking, if not traumatic experience for most Americans,” she said. She pointed out that The Space Report 2009, published by the Space Foundation, valued the global space economy at $257 billion.

A key theme of the hearing was the importance of communication with the public about the relevance of space. Mr. Miles O’Brien, a journalist who covered space for 17 years, said that public affairs should be a mission requirement for NASA. “Leave the public behind,” he said, “and there won’t be any missions — much less requirements.”

Ms. Deborah Adler Myers of the Science Channel echoed Mr. O’Brien’s call for outreach, saying that, “…if you capture people’s imaginations, they will connect and engage.” Space programming remains popular with the public, she said, noting that, “our viewers tell us that it is one of their favorite subjects.”

Read transcripts from the hearings.

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