Tuesday, July 31, 2012

TASC: NASA 'essential for national security'

Support for NASA and Space Exploration in the U.S., as essential public policy and vital to national security, is not expressed as often or as acutely in the 21st century as it was when the civilian space agency was founded in 1958. Instead, considering the agency in the context of the Cold War, as part of an arms race with the former Soviet Union, is often dismissed as ancient history. The agency's role in serving an essential national security interest is usually, at best, remembered only as secondary to its contributions to the quality of life of Americans.

But in the background, in congressional cloakrooms and committee hearings, NASA's role in service to American national security is paramount, even over and above pork barrel politics, and more now as budgetary constraint becomes less abstract with each increase in the national debt ceiling.

The public voice in support of NASA being vital to American national security is rarely heard above the noise of debates over NASA's future exploration roadmap and over the self-continuity concerns of a vested bureaucracy.

Former U.S. Senator and Apollo veteran Harrison Schmitt and  others, have, on occasion, reminded us that NASA's most basic constitutional reason-for-being is still the role it plays as a vital arm of America's national security.

Now a study has been released by The Analytic Sciences Corporation (TASC) expressing this national security raison d'etre in the context of the 21st century. As a think-tank arm associated with the aerospace industry the think tank behind the study may not be a totally dispassionate one, but it at least puts forward the effort as justifying NASA's expense not as either a museum curator or an enabler purely of the dreams of academia or futurists, but as a federal arm serving an over-arching "compelling state interest."

"For the United States," the study's introduction reads, "maintaining a leadership role in space is an essential component of national security, providing the U.S. and our allies “unprecedented advantages in national decision-making, military operations, and homeland security.”* NASA is essential for national security, not only because of its role in developing new space capabilities and technologies, but also because it is explicitly excluded from military activity by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. Simply stated, NASA is uniquely positioned to facilitate international collaboration on peaceful uses of space in ways the military cannot.

"This paper explores the important roles of international cooperation, cost-reducing technology development and game-changing innovation, as well as NASA’s role supporting a strong commercial space industry. NASA can improve its national space security posture even during times of budget austerity."

The paper can be read online, HERE, or downloaded as an Adobe Reader (pdf) file, HERE.

* National Security Space Strategy, January 2011, DOD and ODNI

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