Transcript

PrintPrint EmailEmail ShareShare CiteCite
Style:MLAAPAChicagoClose

loading...

The Future of U.S. Space Policy

Speakers: Scott Pace, Professor of the Practice of International Affairs; Director, Space Policy Institute, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, and Robert Walker, Executive Chairman, Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates; Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives (1977-97)
Presider: James Fallows, National Correspondent, The Atlantic
April 15, 2013
Council on Foreign Relations

Media

Share

JAMES FALLOWS: Good evening, everyone. My name is James Fallows. I'm a writer for the Atlantic Monthly, a fan of space, a pilot. And I'm happy to be here this evening for a discussion with two distinguished experts on the future of space policy, an entire round table, too.

I have some procedural reminders. So I'm -- the main thing I'm support to tell you, this is on the record. I think there actually are some press people, too, who may be listening, apart from me. And we'll have about 25 minutes or so discussion between me and our two panelists, and then I'll open it up to questions from the rest of you, and we'll end by 7:30.

So you know -- I think you probably know personally and certainly by reputation the two people who are going to be leading our discussion: former Congressman Robert Walker, to my immediate right, who for 20 years was representing Pennsylvania and for the time since then has been a leading expert on America's aerospace future. You chaired, I think, President Bush's commission on the future of American aerospace. And so he has been very much involved, including during the Gingrich campaign. Newt Gingrich was one of -- probably the most prominent advocate of America's future in space during the 2012 campaign, and you were closely involved with him in that.

We have Scott Pace, who's a professor of the practice of international affairs, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University and a longtime veteran of NASA and various incarnations there doing international relations, I think also the GPS agreement with the European Community and plotting America's -- the interaction of commercial and state interest in having America's space future.

So I'd like to begin by asking each of our guests to tell us -- to orient us on the sate of play as of 2013 with the Obama administration in its second term. What is promising in American space policy at the moment? What is your main area of concern that you each have, starting with Congressman Walker?

ROBERT WALKER: Well, I think the space programs that are working at the present time are the people who are developing the commercial side of our space entrance. The administration has been supportive in their -- in their budgets with the Commercial Crew Program and the Commercial Cargo Program. And that's certainly been a help. But there has been a lot happening out there that really doesn't even reference the things that NASA is doing at the present time. And so you're beginning to see a development there that I think ultimately will play out to the benefit of NASA, to the benefit of the government, to the benefit of space in general.

Where I -- where I think we are coming apart on the space program is that literally the policy surrounding space is being driven now in large part by space as a jobs program. A lot of the people who are in the Congress at the present time who take an interest in space do so because they have a facility in their district or they have some particular reason to be involved with it, but very few people who look at space as a large general program. And I think that has been a trend that has come along over a period of time.

And as a result, what we're finding is that the ability to get a sense of direction about an overall program is limited by people who say, well, I'm all for doing a new program; what's my (senator ?) going to get out of this? You know, how -- you know, it doesn't matter whether a senator has anything to do with the technical program that is being discussed; they want to make certain, though, that they get their piece of it. And as a result, NASA has become more and more dysfunctional, in my view, and it's not necessarily as much NASA's fault as it is the people who are driving the policy and allocating the budgets. And so I have a great concern about that.

And I think if you take a look of how we have gone through in this administration a number of iterations of what it is we want to do in space as a -- as a civilian program, you know, that's clearly been the program. I mean, do we want to go to the Moon? Do we want to go to an asteroid? Do we want to capture an asteroid and bring it back to the Moon? I mean, there's just all kinds of things that have been suggested. And it's simply to continue to kind of feed the bear. And that is, I think, a pattern that can't be allowed now to continue.

On the military side, I think we have done a much better job in terms of deciding where we are going with these programs. And the military constellations have been brought into a fairly good condition. We have operational constellations now that I think are working quite well. They are starved for money, as most programs in this arena are, but on the military side, we're extremely dependent upon space. That dependence is recognized up and down the command in the various services. And as a result, we are seeing a lot more focus in those programs than we've seen on the civilian side.

FALLOWS: Great. Thank you.

So Scott Pace, you've heard -- you're a long-time veteran of NASA, which you've heard Robert Walker describe as an agency that's becoming (old ?) and jobs driven. How would you start us by understanding the landscape of where we are and what the opportunities are now?

SCOTT PACE: Well, I think the first thing to understand is that, you know, NASA fundamentally is one of the most discretionary of agencies and activities. There's nothing in the Constitution that says there's going to be a NASA. And so NASA has been something that's been a tool of the president for many, many years. Every president since Eisenhower, Kennedy, has found a way to use NASA to address, you know, his particular sets of interests.

I think what's kind of striking in this recent years is that this administration has not really found a way to use NASA to advance its priorities. And one can think of many priorities where NASA could contribute -- in terms of international cooperation, in terms of science, in terms of education, outreach and so forth. Really -- really hasn't been done.

And if you read the national space policy of 2010, as someone who's been through these drills since 1990, I guess, when I came to town, I think it's a pretty good document. I think it's well balanced. It has a lot of material which has a lot of continuity to previous years. It's well-written, with the exception of the section on human spaceflight, which, as an aficionado of such things -- all of you from other different fields, you know, if you're a specialist in the field, you read language and it feels a certain way, there's a certain touch or turn of phrase that you can recognize in your own speciality. And I read that section and, you know, it was essentially -- I would take it as cut-and-pasted from a presidential speech and dropped into policy without the requisite degree of interagency review that the rest of the document had, and it sort of feels that way.

And I think that leads to the fundamental disconnects that Congressman walker describes between the policies and programs and budgets; that as on the science side and on the military side, we have severe programmatic challenges. There's never enough money; there's never enough time. But those are fundamentally programmatic issues.

What you have on the human space flight is an existential problem. You have a lack of a clear sense about why are we doing this, and so you get language out of the agency, out of necessity, of things like, well, capability-driven evolution. Well, that's what you do when you don't know what you're doing. And again, it's not the first time we've done this. You can go back to the Nixon administration decision on space shuttle to build the shuttle without really a clear set of policy directions. So in many ways, the policy today on capability-driven evolution reminds me of 1972, which is an interesting flashback.

Now, I would take issue slightly with a point that Congressman Walker makes about the space debates being only about what's in my district. That's certainly an important consideration, and no one would say otherwise. But I think it also overlooks the bipartisan consensus that had been created in the 2005 and 2008 NASA authorization bills after the Space Shuttle Columbia accident. And you had overwhelming bipartisan support for two sets of directions -- about returning to the moon, going on to Mars, not any sort of race but as a general we're going to go that way as we can afford to pay.

And the rather strong reaction the Congress had to changes that the administration tried to make was not solely because of changes in contracts and local field centers, but because essentially the administration was saying that the bipartisan consensus that Congress had painfully reached was wrong and that they should rethink what they were about. And they proposed a new direction that no one really quite understood. And so it's -- and at that point, the members of Congress, being asked to vote for something that they didn't trust, didn't understand, was not well explained, and one can understand why there would be a debate about that. And so it's interesting that the space issue is one of those areas where there is actually bipartisan agreement in the Congress and bipartisan disagreement with the White House over the lack of direction in this -- in this area.

Now, one of the areas where I think opportunities are being missed and why I think this session here in the Council on Foreign Relations is so timely -- and I'm very appreciative of you doing this -- is because of -- really, of our foreign policy interests that are being affected by this sense of drift. If you look at where our biggest foreign policy challenges are, I would submit the bulk of them -- not all, but the bulk of them are in Asia, and particularly dealing with countries which are rising space powers in Asia, India and China. And so having a point of view or an approach towards these countries is important.

On the civil side, it's important because no one thinks we're going to go beyond low Earth orbit, beyond the space station, without international partners. The U.S. is not going to repeat Apollo anytime soon. There's no reason for it to do that. But if you're going to go beyond low Earth orbit with partners, one should talk to those potential partners. You should ask them, what do they want to do? What are they are interested in doing? What are they willing to do? And I would submit that when you do that, you don't hear, we want to go to Mars next week. You will not hear asteroids. You will see a willingness to work with the United States, but the thing that they could do, which is go to the moon -- return to the moon with the United States, is something that's really been left on the cutting-room floor.

And that missed opportunity is not something that just affects space enthusiasts like myself. It affects our other security interests because we are more dependent on space than really any other nation, economically, scientifically. Certainly our national security depends on it, our image. Soft power is bound up with it. And that environment is becoming more and more dangerous. Both intentional and unintentional damage, orbital debris, ASAT tests, all kinds of things that go on -- and we need help from other countries in keeping that environment sustainable, calm, peaceful. And that's not going to happen solely because other people just want to help us out. We have to give opportunities for other countries to participate and be part of that environment so that their equities and their interests are aligned with ours.

So there is, I think, a great opportunity to combine both our civil and our national security space interests to advance our overall foreign policy agenda and working with other countries and engaging with other countries. And I submit that that is largely an opportunity that is yet to be reached or grasped by this administration.

FALLOWS: There is a very interesting connection that you lay out, which is that we depend on international cooperation to achieve our ends in many areas, and what other international partners are interested in is something different from what the -- you know, ordinary people in the American public might be thinking of.

Let me focus for a moment, starting again with you and then back to Congressman Walker, on the element of that which is most on, I think, the public's mind, which is the future of manned flight. Would you make a case to the American public -- how do you see the right future for manned space flight in this next -- this next phase of American exploration?

PACE: Well, you know, as an academic, I'll say there's -- it depends. And there's many different ways to answer that question. If one was going to simply do science, I would say send a robot, OK? If -- but science is not the same thing as exploration. It's not the same thing as international relations.

And so I would see the future of human space flight as one that's primarily exploration, with science alongside. The purpose of human space flight is largely driven by geopolitical interests, as it's always been. From the initial race with the Soviets to the Clinton administration bringing the Russians into the space station program, geopolitical considerations have been primary on the human space flight side.

The exciting thing, which I think Congressman Walker can talk more about, is the -- is the entrepreneurship that's happening in the private sector and that there are more opportunities for private citizens to eventually go into space. Now, I think this is much harder and more difficult than many of the enthusiasts want to say, but it is absolutely not impossible. There is a market for it. And it is something where it's not just governments are going to be going into space, but -- of course, but private individuals.

So I would say the future of human space flight is one that's going to be a mix, that there is going to be cruise ships and warships. There are military transports, and there are commercial transports. There's mixtures of reasons as to why people operate in space.

What is unknown, and part of what exploration can answer, is what sort of future humans will have beyond the Earth. There is a classic 2-by-2 chart that I didn't come up with, but another one -- friend -- colleague of mine did, that says, well, there's two questions to answering, is there a human future in space?

One is, can you live off the land or do you always have to come back to earth? And two, is there anything economically useful to do to pay your way? And if the answers to both those questions is yes, then you get space colonies. You get the science fiction vision. If the answer to both questions is no, then space is like some form of Mount Everest. Somebody goes there, it's high adventure and symbolic, but nobody really lives there.

If the answer you can live off the land but there's nothing really economically useful to do, then space is like Antarctica. You do science. There's tourism -- you know, penguins. (Laughter.) And you know, it's a place for research and a mixture of activities. The other option is if you can find something economically useful to do but you always have to come back to earth, you really can't separate yourself from the plant, then space is like an oil platform -- something you go and you service.

Those are four radically different human futures in space. Now, people have their preferences and desires and hopes as to which future it might be, but the answer is we really don't really know. My contention is several of those options involve people living beyond the Earth and from -- again, from a -- maybe an ideological standpoint, I would like those people living beyond the Earth to share the values of Western democracy -- a liberal, tolerant culture, capitalism, democracy. I don't mind other people out there, I just don't want them to be out there without me. (Laughter.)

FALLOWS: OK, Mr. Walker, you've been involved for a long time in thinking about the future of manned flight. How should we think about that and also the commercial-public balance in the future of manned flight?

WALKER: Well, I think the reason for including humans in what we do in space is inspiration. It is -- it is humans coming back with their stories about what it is like to be in space that drives you then forward. And it's an opportunity for all of humankind to participate in this.

And I think that the issue for the United States is whether or not we are going to lead humankind into space -- whether or not we are going to be in the forefront of doing a lot of the technology that takes us there, because I'm convinced that in this century the nations that lead in the world are going to be those that create new knowledge. And one of the places where you have a huge opportunity to create new knowledge will be exploration of the universe, exploration of the solar system and the building of technology that allows you to do that.

And that, it seems to me, is what's lacking here. When we were doing my commission back some years ago, one of the things we said was that the -- that the vision of what we do ought to be the exploration of the solar system, and it ought to be the human exploration of the solar system. And I remember one of the country's leading astrophysicists, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who's a part of the commission, saying one day: We need to get to Europe so that we can drill down through the ice and send a camera down there and see what looks back -- (laughter) -- you know, if anything. But it is that kind of inspiration that humans can bring to the -- to the mix.

I do think that there are opportunities beyond simply the things that government does. I think that government is going to have to be involved in moving us out beyond the moon. But I also think that the moon represents one of those places where we now have in our history knowledge and technology about how you do there and what you might be able to do there. And we now have private companies that are looking at sending people to the moon.

I'm on the board of Space Adventures. Space Adventures has a proposal on the street right now to fly two people on an Apollo 8 kind of mission around the moon. There is quite a bit of interest in that particular proposal. It costs a lot of money, but there is significant interest in that. And I expect sometime in the next few months, we will announce that we have gotten two passengers and that we are going to build a spacecraft to do it.

The other company that's out there that's looking at this is a company called Golden Spike. And it is at best an embryonic company at the present time, but their whole belief is -- of taking people and landing them on the moon, and with the idea that there will be sovereign money that will be made available to go do that because there are lots of countries in the world that would like to say that they are a moon country, that they -- that they have sent their people to the moon.

And in the -- at least the initial phases of it, they have found quite a bit of interest in that. Now, there's a huge hurdle from going and doing a loop around the moon to actually creating the vehicles that land you on the moon. But you know, they believe and they've done pretty good research and there are lots of key NASA professionals that are a part of that company who believe that for several billion dollars that they can carry out those kinds of missions.

And so what I think is that you are going to see a backfill take place here, a technological backfill where we have created technologies that allow us to go that far out. But if we're going to go further, if we're going to go to asteroids, if we're going to go to Mars, if we're going to go out into the solar system, you have to create a range of new technologies. And that's what I'm concerned about. I don't see NASA at the present time investing in that area. And I believe that is a place where we could get international cooperation, to begin to invest in nuclear technologies, for example, that would cut the trip to Mars from months to weeks, because that makes it politically sellable. I don't -- I think it's very hard to sell something that you're going to send people out and they're going to drift for months in order to get out to your destination.

I think, though, when you cut it down to the point that people actually can go, you solve some of the radiation problems, there are a number of things that get solved at that point. But we have not created those kinds of technologies now. They're there to be created. We worked at them at a -- you know, at a preliminary level, but those are some of the kinds of things I think we have to do in the future.

FALLOWS: So I have a question for each of you in your respective area of main life experience. A political question for Congressman Walker. You had a very interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago, proposing what you said would be a Reagan-Bush-Obama tradition in space exploration, raising the possibility of -- this would be beyond normal parts in politics -- we've known that presidents have used NASA for their own purposes, as you've said. But it's also -- there's been a kind of national interest tone to it. How do you see the potential for this rising above normal partisan disagreement and actually getting, you know, stable funding in the long run?

WALKER: Well, it's very -- you know, I mean, it's very difficult to get above any kind of partisan wrangling at the present time. What we -- what we were saying in that article was that if you move a lot of the decisions outside the realm of the political and allow companies to have the ability to use their own resources and then supplement that with some government resources, that that is at a root to getting a lot more in the way of activity and space.

One of the things that when I served on the Aldridge Commission that came after my commission, one of the things we found there was that the only that you could do space inside the budgets that are likely to be allocated in the future is to expand the size of the space community. You cannot rely upon everybody going through the front door of NASA to get to space. So you have got to expand the community beyond that particular agency.

And certainly we have a lot of military hardware. One of the pieces of this is to begin to use all of our space assets for national purposes. You know, why is NASA building, you know, a new chemical rocket ship when we've got a couple of heavy-lift vehicles that the -- that the military has? Wouldn't it be cheaper to go to block buy and, you know, buy a lot more of those vehicles and utilize them and put NASA out doing the next generation and at the same time get people investing? Of the three companies that are doing the commercial crew program, where they're creating vehicles that would -- that would move crew to orbit and so on -- of the three companies, two of them are putting substantial amounts of their own money into the development of those vehicles. That's what you want to begin to encourage.

And then what you want to do is you want to bring the commercial community in because they see the excitement and the potential of space for everything from sponsorships to, you know, actual participation in moon flights. And what's going to happen is if somebody like Golden Spike goes to the moon, my guess is that they won't be landing simply a -- you know, a government lander on the moon; they will be -- they will be landing something that has someone's logo emblazoned on the side of it --

FALLOWS: Like NASCAR.

WALKER: -- and who -- that will -- that will, you know -- they will have paid a lot of money for that.

And in some of those kinds of things -- because those people then that buy those sponsorships become a part of the overall community. And they become enthusiasts for it because they're directly involved in it. I drive race cars as a hobby, you know, and it's amazing to me. I've never, you know, gotten beyond little Formula 2000 cars, but my Nomex suit is festooned with stuff of people that are willing to pay for the ability for me to go out and drive around the track for a little bit of time. Those potentials are there in space as well.

FALLOWS: You've given us a lot to think about. (Laughter.)

A question for Scott -- respond to any of that, if you want, but I also have a question about the culture of NASA, where you've spent a lot of your life both in and around. And two different aspects of that. One is, there's the perception that in America of the last, say, 20 years or so, the great institutions of national resource and research have been neglected and put into a period of decline after a period of expansion. Is that true of NASA, and what are the effects within?

The other is whether NASA is now able to, or you think will conveniently be able to in the future, divide labor well with the commercial sector, on one side, and its international partners on the other -- as, say, National Institutes of Health does with its allies. So, what is the culture of NASA -- stable, down or up? -- and can it work with commercial and international partners?

PACE: Sure. It always comes back to policy. What is it that you want NASA, you know, to be? There are some people who want NASA to be a version of the National Science Foundation. You go there, you get grants, money comes out -- but no one thinks that NSF has its own laboratories. NIH is a bit different.

NASA has always historically been a mission-driven agency, and a mission-driven agency means that it has a certain amount of intellectual capacity in-house. For example, in the science side of the house, the way they would maintain their intellectual capacity is always by reserving at least one spacecraft build in-house so you had people with tacit knowledge working on something. So, JPL would build something in-house, Goddard Space Flight Center would build something in-house -- sometimes several things in-house.

Now, 85 cents out of every dollar still went out to industry in general, so industry wasn't being neglected. But you made a conscious decision to preserve intellectual capacity inside the agency. And I think one of the things that's been happening over the last several years is that hands-on knowledge, that attention to intellectual capital has been degrading.

Now, something that I saw happening in the last administration, where I was serving, we had the Ares -- called Ares 1-X flight test, where we took a solid rocket motor segment and put a dummy (pilot ?) on top of it and fired it down-rage.

Now, at one level, this was not terribly impressive. I mean, there was no new physics being done; it was something that was known and should have worked. What was impressive was several hundred people that were qualified and then worked with that program and made it a success. Because, what you learned out of that was who is the real engineer and could make the equipment sing, and who is the person that maybe you'll -- maybe they'll make view graphs for the next status report. (Laughter.) And you could not tell that a priori from looking at their resume. It was hands-on expertise that gave that.

And so what I'm concerned about is what's the right balance between what you do in-house and what you put out in (industry ?). Absolutely, industry can be more efficient. Industry can also make mistakes and be bad, but industry can be more efficient if it's allowed to -- and there's -- we can have debates about when it's ready and all that. But there's no question that it can be more efficient than government.

The question is, you still want capabilities inside of government to be the oversight. We could have other discussions about the national security community, about what happened to it in the 1990s when it lost that in-house expertise and the number of mistakes that then happened. It wasn't because industry was being venal or bad or anything. It was because some decisions can only be made by the government person, and some decisions require that person to have tacit knowledge, expertise that only comes from actually doing things.

So, what is it we want NASA to do? Where is that frontier of innovation? I think very clearly there is a frontier where it says, well, if you're going to Mars or something, well, all right, that's still government; commercial cargo delivery to the space station, that's clearly something the private sector is doing right now. When -- where that boundary line is for where we can start transporting people, that's a debate that's happening right now.

Space, as -- I agree with Congressman Walker that one of the reasons why space is important in promoting technology is because it's one of the most interdisciplinary of activities you can engage in -- with all due respect to my friends in IT and biotech and materials and all that sort of thing.

To make a human space-flight mission work, you basically have to master every known skill to make it work. And so, if you're missing a skill, it fails. So this is the reason, -- one of the reasons why, for example, our colleagues in China are pushing it. They're pushing it for perfectly reasonable reasons, which is pushing the quality of their industry, teaching high-level system engineering skills and integration, producing national pride as well as advancing science and technology. I mean, it's -- it makes a fair amount of sense. So, what I would say is we should be doing these things in space and we should be doing it in a mixture of government and private sector because that's the way to advance U.S. national leadership. And drifting along and -- or oscillating back and forth between several different variations, as we've been doing for several years, is a way to dissipate U.S. national leadership, and that I don't think is desirable.

FALLOWS: I have a lot more questions, but the promised time has come to bring you all in. I will say if you'd like to read an excellent treatment of what the Chinese aerospace ambition says about China in general, there's a great book called "China Airborne," that I happened to write. It came out last year. (Laughter.) So I recommend it to you.

So who would like -- so please raise your hand, identify yourself and I'll call -- yes.

QUESTIONER: My name is Maury Sonnenberg (sp). My question goes to a point that Dr. Pace just made, and that is, you said something about hundreds of these people working on these projects. It goes to STEM -- science, technology, engineering or math. It strikes me that funding notwithstanding, one of the problems we're really having is getting these people to be in that field, and this country is losing the edge in the STEM area. And I'm wondering how that affects what you do.

And it turns into something called cyber -- computer, let's say Ph.D. cyber -- computer engineering. I'd like to know what you think in terms of the quality of protection these space vehicles have regarding cyberattack. And my cyber there is, we run on a -- I'll finish. I don't mean to -- I know, you're right. We run on GPS here. What happens in the future with a possible attack on these systems, and conversely, a system that's put up that attacks us on the ground?

FALLOWS: So STEM supplies or cybersecurity

PACE: Sure. The first answer I say on STEM supplies probably makes me unpopular with people, is we often beat on the supply side of the equation and we don't beat on the demand side of the equation. I don't see real wages rising for engineers. Entry-level positions are still hard to come by. Now engineers do better overall. And as an ex-physics major, I say, well, there's always a job elsewhere for me if I -- if I need it.

But I think that we need to provide opportunities for people to do stuff. It's not a matter of just education and increasing the supply. It's a matter of increasing the demand. I mean, one of the reasons why there's an enthusiasm for, say, some of the entrepreneurial space companies that Congressman Walker talks about, is because there's opportunities to get hired. I mean, it's simple -- it's as simple as that. And so we talk a good game and we often don't actually back it up in doing things.

The second thing I would say with regard to cyber and spacecraft, that is something that is worried about a lot. Sometimes, some of this gets really down in the weeds, but you'll get discussions of standards for interoperability in connection and communications with spacecraft. And one of the things my colleagues look for is any sort of standard which says there can be a direct connection between the Internet and the spacecraft. No, no, no, no. You know, there's going to be a firewall. There's going to be gaps. There's going to be command and control protocols to prevent those sorts of exploitations.

And then finally the issue about attacks on us: This is the whole question of counterspace. And there can be attacks in a variety of ways. You can attack the spacecraft itself. You can attack the ground site. You can attack the links between them. And there are people who spend lots and lots of time.

If you look in the current national space policy, it doesn't talk about just protecting space assets. It talks about mission assurance. It is providing multiple different ways of accomplishing a mission, irrespective of the particular space system. And so I think that people are aware of that sensitivity. They're aware of our dependence. The question is, is whether or not we, along our with our allies, can really muster the concentrated attention necessary to mitigate the dependency that we have on them now.

FALLOWS: Do you want to add, or you leave it --

WALKER: Well, I just want to agree with Scott on the business of STEM education. I mean, we know from past history that if we have inspirational programs, they do, in fact, bring young people to the professions that feed engineering and science. The problem becomes that they are -- young people tend to be very smart about where they think opportunities lie, and so, you know, if you have to choose between being a lawyer right now or being a space engineer, the chances are that the money looks better on the law side. And so it's -- it is a matter of creating not only the inspiration, it also is a matter of assuring that the jobs are there in the country once they graduate after a fairly lengthy education.

FALLOWS: So before I take the next question, I'm remiss at not asking people to identify themselves and their affiliation, just for people who are listening on the webcast, and we're supposed to speak into the microphones too.

So who has another question? Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: Errol Levy from the European Union delegation to the U.S. In his earlier remarks, Professor Pace mentioned that the U.S. is dependent like no other country on space activities and space assets. That being the case, would Professor Pace or Mr. Walker care to comment on the desirability and the prospects for a code of conduct to be agreed at international level for space activities, and particularly around low Earth orbit?

PACE: The short answer is yes, a code of conduct could be a very useful step, not the least of which because it provides an alternative to the somewhat unverifiable and unexecutable Chinese and Russian proposals for bans on space weapons, which I challenge my students to give me a definition of a space weapon, and that usually elicits about an hour or two of debate before I tell them there isn't such a definition that you can get anybody to agree on. So as an alternative to the somewhat stalled proposals from the Chinese and Russians, I think a code of conduct has a lot of merit to it.

On the other hand, I think one of the problems with the code of conduct -- and I've been involved in some of these things at COPUS and other forums is that we -- there's been insufficient engagement with the developing countries. There's lots of conversation between the U.S., Japan and Europe. There has not been, in my view, adequate consultations and discussions, although there have certainly been some contacts, with Brazil, India, South Africa, Malaysia, Vietnam, all the other countries who actually have an equity in this. And I think to some extent it reflects almost an old-fashioned way of thinking about space as something that, really, developed countries do rather than a code of conduct which needs to get a lot of other people brought in.

So I think the primary problem with a code of conduct is to making sure that it has a diplomatic strategy equal to the challenge, which is bigger and more formidable than I think other space agreements have been.

FALLOWS: So --

WALKER: Yeah, well, my response on it would be that the problem with any kind of code of conduct will be policing it. And I'll give you one anecdote. I was in China a few months back and was talking to one of the top officials in their Foreign Ministry. And I asked him a question about the anti-satellite weapon the Chinese had fired. And so -- and I said, was there any consultation with the Foreign Ministry before that anti-satellite weapon was fired? And there was a long pause. And then he said no. And I said, was there any consultation with the civilian government before that anti-satellite weapon was fired? Again, a long pause. And he said no.

Now, you know, the problem is that, you know, if you have government-to-government kinds of -- kinds of arrangements here, you know, what do you have -- what happens when, you know, a rogue nation or a rogue element inside a nation decides to go off and do something which is unacceptable? I mean, there are -- there are some real problems. When we had Law of the Sea treaties, there were things you could do because -- you know, it's much more difficult to do that in space.

FALLOWS: Yes, Mr. Parkinson (sp), yes.

QUESTIONER: I'm going to show my naivete here. As I listened, I'm trying to think what --

FALLOWS: And could you introduce yourself?

QUESTIONER: Oh, I'm sorry. My name's Roger Parkinson (sp). I was a publisher in a former life. I'm not sure I heard -- maybe everybody takes for granted that there are compelling reasons why we ought to have manned space and spend all this money. And I was listening, and what I heard was, for inspiration, for foreign policy, to get cooperation with China and India and other countries, build skills, advance national leadership. It's awful expensive to do that. I mean, that might be a benefit, but it seems to me it's a lot of money, that we could do that cheaper. The one thing I did hear was exploration, as opposed to science -- send a robot to do science, which seems compelling to me. I'm wondering why -- we've been involved in it, and people are excited about it, but why should we really -- tell me, now, why should we really do it? This sounds like most of the reasons you gave, we could do in different ways cheaper.

FALLOWS: This is a question of first-order importance. I'll turn first to a political answer or a policy answer.

WALKER: OK. Well, I think Scott described a few minutes ago something which is extremely important. When you begin to think about putting humans into space, and all the various aspects of doing that -- mitigating risk, you know, assuring that you have the ability to maintain life or the -- whatever craft you're sending out there. All of the things -- you have to integrate virtually every science and technical issue that you can possibly fix.

And when you do that, you have a whole variety of discoveries that wouldn't otherwise take place. And the payback from the Apollo program, as expensive as it was, is thought to be somewhere, for our country, in the 7-to-1 ratio, simply because of the technological wave that was done. You don't get that same thing with robotics, because you don't have to do the integration that you do. And so there is a significant ability to increase your base of technical knowledge and scientific knowledge just by going ahead and doing a human flight.

QUESTIONER: That's an effect, but that's not a reason to actually -- I mean, we could probably do other things where we could integrate knowledge. We might not be inspired to do it, but I haven't heard the reason to actually do this exploration.

WALKER: But that's the whole history of exploration. I mean, from Lewis and Clark -- I mean, you go back and -- you know, Christopher Columbus -- the whole history of human exploration has been a similar history, that those nations who engaged in it achieved great ends -- (inaudible). And so the effect is important in all of this, because what we know from a -- you know, thousands of years of history is, that is a way of assuring that you maintain not only leadership, but you maintain technical leadership.

FALLOWS: And how would you, Scott Pace, augment this argument?

PACE: Well, I would say a couple of things. One is that the $17 billion that NASA spends is, you know, barely -- a little over half of what NIH spends. So in terms of the dollar amounts, we're not talking about large amounts of money. Seventeen billion dollars is still real money, but nonetheless, we spend probably more time arguing over NASA money than we do most other things.

Second thing I would say is that human space flight in particular leads you to have a bit of a split mind on the subject. I mean, half of it has to be very much rigorous and analytical -- and because if you don't, and don't do the integration work, dangerous and bad things happen.

The other side, though, has to recognize almost the emotional and romantic reasons why people not only domestically, but internationally engage in space activities. We've made, I think, more progress on getting people to sign up for orbital debris mitigation guidelines -- you know, very techie kinds of things, when other people had their nationals aboard the space station.

Now, from a rational risk analysis, you know, the few Europeans and Japanese and Canadians who were abroad the Space Station didn't represent any massive new risk. But when it was really kind of clear that their people were also at risk, not just Americans and Russians, progress on other areas like mitigating debris for perfectly practical reasons like preventing damage to our very expensive satellites made some more progress.

So there is an emotional linkage in there that I think advanced our security. But finally, I would say -- not a policy argument, but really almost a philosophical -- a values argument is, it's not just our DNA and our machines that go out there, OK? It's what values we represent. And depending on what future you think there might be for humans in space, I would like to be a leader not only because I think it's in U.S. national interests, but because I want to see our values and the values of our friends and allies also to be represented out there.

Now, if I knew with certainty that space was like Mount Everest and no one would ever really live there for long-term other than just to visit and come back, I would say, stop now. But if there's a potential for there to be a human civilization and human communities beyond the Earth -- if there's that potential there -- I want the values in that community to be those of the West, broadly speaking.

And so I think we -- the history of exploration has been that those countries which do explore and advance wind up in better positions. There's nearer-term benefits in terms of the technologies, as was discussed. It's relatively affordable compared to other things that we do, and it has some immediate geopolitical interests, I believe, in the Asia-Pacific region, where we have some particular problems this century that we should be engaging on.

FALLOWS: I'm not going to ask you if you're convinced, because I think we've elegantly laid out different perspectives on this issue. But thank you for the question.

Another question from anyone? On military aspects, commercial aspects or anything, asteroids? (No response.)

I'm going to ask about asteroids. How should we feel about asteroids and their potential?

MR. : For --

FALLOWS: Either as threats or as a potential to be mined.

PACE (?): Got to catch it first.

WALKER: Well, at the present time -- I mean, clearly they've been a threat for as long as the Earth has existed, you know, and, you know, a very large asteroid crashing into the Earth would do an awful lot of very bad things. So they are a threat. And at some point we may figure out ways to mitigate that threat, but the ways that we know how to do it right now actually end up causing more problems than then solve. So that's a factor.

Do they potentially contain minerals that would be useful to us here on Earth? Yeah, potentially. But once again, the expense of going there and bringing those minerals back, the question is whether or not you could, you know, really economically justify that as a way of utilizing asteroids. I mean, there are real questions.

When we have developed the capability to go into deep space, my guess is that we're going to want know more about what the asteroids are all about. I'm not certain that in my mind I can justify that as being the mission that we ought to go do at the present time.

One of the more interesting ideas that's out there is to put a satellite out that would give us a better perspective in terms of watching asteroids so that we would have a better early-warning system about the asteroids that we cannot see at the present time. That does make some sense as a mission over the next decade or so.

FALLOWS: You have your hand --

QUESTIONER: I do.

FALLOWS: Yes.

QUESTIONER: I wonder if I could follow up on Scott's -- I'm Frank Klotz from the Council on Foreign Relations. I want to make a follow-up on Scott's point about Indian and Chinese efforts in the human space flight area and your plea for cooperation in that area. How do you see that unfolding politically? Because there are objections to U.S.-Chinese cooperation in the area of space, in fact some language which prevents NASA officials and officials in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House from even meeting with Chinese counterparts. How do you see that being resolved in the near- to midterm?

PACE: I think one of the ways it could be resolved is by laying out a game plan or laying out an approach that addresses the -- I think the very real concerns. I'm familiar with Congressman Wolf's concerns, his concerns with human rights and religious liberty in China. It's very serious and very heartfelt. He's deadly, deadly serious about it.

And I think that I would not be one in favor of, say, bringing the Chinese into the International Space Station. You know, the existing partnership is done. We're not adding any more partners to it. Could I imagine a Chinese payload, you know, coming up on board? Could I imagine Chinese scientific cooperation? Yeah, I could. I can go back to the kind of cooperation we had with the Soviet Union. We had space cooperation with them in a number of areas of science that were fairly low-risk, that were fairly well-contained. China's not the Soviet Union. We're not trying to contain it. And so I can see a number of areas for opportunity.

I think the areas where Congress in general has had concerns about cooperation with China is they haven't really seen a path forward that they really trusted. I think that some of the answers they got from the administration were rather vague, and they simply didn't trust the -- the old, you know, saying we have in classes is there's policy, process and people. The policy is one part, the process you engage in is another, and the individual people you deal with are a third.

So I think having an approach toward engagement in Asia and a general space strategy way of saying this is how transparent, mutually beneficial and reciprocal actions are going to occur, which has been in some of the summit statements, and I thought that if the Congress actually believed that those would be implemented in a decent way and in a cautious way, I think you could make some progress. But at the moment, it's, frankly, a bit of a standoff and I don't know that I would really spend too much time on it.

One thing I'd have to add is that the current national space policy -- talking about Mars and asteroids -- really doesn't provide a way for engagement, not just with China but really with anyone else. One of the merits of the moon, which I'm a partisan of, is that as we say in the business, has many different price points. You can come into it at a very high end; you can come in at a very modest end. But nonetheless, you can participate. Asteroid missions, Mars missions -- those are all upper-end price points, and therefore intrinsically don't have the kind of opportunities for international cooperation and international advantage that we might want to have.

FALLOWS: You've been in the middle of this.

WALKER: No, but -- no, but yeah, the interesting thing about the India-China, putting those two together, is that I remember back a decade or so ago asking the Indians why they were pursuing a space program when they had lots of other things that they needed to be doing in their country. And the answer was because the Chinese had one, you know. And so -- I mean, that rivalry is -- it, you know, plays itself out in some other ways.

I'm not as willing to write off having Chinese participation on the international space station. And the reason why is because I think it's vastly more dangerous to us to have the Chinese go out and build their own space station, which I think is a -- is a possibility at some point in the future. That if in fact you want to find ways of building cooperation in the future, the way of doing that is to maybe include them in some of what we do aboard the international space station and do so in a way that we're able to watch what they're doing rather than having them operate a space station of their own.

We've at least suspected for some time that their manned flights thus far have had some military things aboard them. And so one would have to assume that if they do a space station of their own that it might have some military usefulness to them too. And so I -- you know, I'm willing to look at that. And I understand too that there are certainly people in the Congress that don't want to -- don't want to go down that road, and for very good reasons.

And the element of trust here is a -- is a big -- is a big problem. But if we could get over some of those hurdles, I don't want to foreclose the idea that if that space station is going to be there, say, beyond 2020, and we go to a refurbishment of it, to have it -- to be a longer-life station. Then I think that we ought -- we ought to be considering a broader international participation.

FALLOWS: We have time for maybe two more questions.

Yes.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Philippe Hazane. I'm coming from the French embassy. I'm the space attache. As far as I understood, the NASA, the U.S. space policy by NASA is twofold. One is the low-earth orbit, is the commercial part. I'm talking about human flight. And the second one is further exploration.

Regarding the international -- (inaudible) -- concerning the commercial part, I have no doubt that if the market is there, our companies will work together to align, as we used to do for aeronautics or for other things.

Regarding the further exploration and cooperation, I have something that I would like to -- you to -- (inaudible) -- is that with air, in all the speech from the administration, from NASA, that we are going to make international policy regarding the further exploration, but in the fact, there is nothing coming.

Two weeks ago, or last week, we had a declaration about the -- (inaudible) -- international cooperation. I'm not sure it's international cooperation when you have a phone call and you ask to commit within two years on such a program which is very high-tech program. So I'm just wondering where is the international cooperation and the future of space policy?

FALLOWS: Where is the beef, as they used to say? (Laughter.)

WALKER: Well, I think our problem on international cooperation is twofold. I mean, number one, we don't -- we don't have a policy framework in which we can assure that international cooperation will have a meaningful result. Secondly, it has been a somewhat rocky road for internationals to cooperate with the United States and spend some of their own resources for projects that we sign them up for.

And we have -- we have a history of, you know, backing off after money's been spent. And I remember fighting hard inside the policy process to assure that the Japanese module ended up being put on the space station. For a while there was talk about not doing that. And knowing how much JAXA had actually spent on that module, and had used a large portion of their investment in their space program to cooperate with the space station, it would have been a disaster for us -- you know, particularly in light of the fact that we had backed down on some other international agreements in the past. And so I would say it's twofold. I mean, number one, we don't have a policy to follow; secondly, we have not been the most reliable of partners.

FALLOWS: Yeah.

PACE: I would -- I would actually broaden that beyond just the Japanese and really say for all of our -- all of our partners. I was at NASA, of course, after Columbia and Congressman Walker's correct. There was a very, very serious debate about stopping space station assembly. There was not -- it was not obvious that we would return the shuttle to flight. And so a lot of the international modules and components, of course, were still on the ground.

And we approached other countries at the highest levels and said, do you want to save the money and stop or do you really want to keep going? And at the most senior levels of the major partners, the answer was, we understand if you physically can't do it, but you have to try, OK? You cannot not try, given the commitments. Otherwise, other international cooperatives are going to be impossible.

So the shuttle was able to return to flight. We had a number of changes, of course, for the remaining missions. But I would submit that the primary reason that we returned the shuttle to flight was to meet the international partner commitments that were made. We put human life at risk to protect the honor of the United States and those commitments. And so I think that was the fundamental reason the station was finished, is because of what the partners said to us.

I think that today, we have a group, the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, which is, you know, just kind of a marching and chowder society of space enthusiasts who get together, who have had very robust discussions about how you might go to an asteroid or how you might go to -- you know, Mars or go to the moon. And that group technically has, I think, identified all the various pieces and parts that they would need to engage in.

What they don't have is the political top cover to do it. I had breakfast with the head of the European Space Agency, who will go unnamed, and I was talking about European cooperation. And he said, Scott, there's lots of cooperation with the Europeans -- referring to a lot of the science programs. There's just no cooperation with Europe. And you know, he was exactly right. There is lots and lots of Europeans who are involved in our program, lots of Japanese, lots of Canadians, but something that is bigger than that is sorely missing.

FALLOWS: We've reached the end of our allotted time. If you have a quick question, you can ask it. And I need to remind everybody, before we close this, it has been on the record, so a quick question and quick responses.

QUESTIONER: Yes, thank you very much, Dara Panahy with Milbank Tweed.

Given that NASA seems to have achieved a certain success in achieving part of its mandate, which is to help catalyze a broader universe as you will by helping companies such as SpaceX and its competing initiative, Orbital Sciences' Taurus program, and having some private initiatives, which are partially or otherwise fully self-funded, are there any specific ideas, thoughts you have beyond COTS/CRS or these initiatives that can help further expand this universe of cooperation or private company initiatives?

PACE: Sure, I think one of the things I would say is just first as a caution, is the word commercial is badly misused in some of this. It's a government buyer for a government mission to a government service. We're not yet at the point as we are with satellite communications, where it's private buyers and sellers and so forth. So the word commercial -- it's really more private than it is fully commercial yet. The government is doing things for its own self-interest.

But that being said, again, one of the reasons why I think the moon looms large is because I can easily imagine commercial cargo delivery to the moon. It's a bit farther, it's a little bit -- little extra velocity, but you're not risking human life, and so you know, doing cargo delivery services to the moon.

I can imagine progress and cooperation that's going o happening between the FAA, NASA and others on what the certification standards ought to be for human space flight. This is still going to be an incredibly dangerous occupation. We don't yet have a path to achieve the goals that were set after Columbia of achieving a probability of loss of crew of less than one in a thousand, I mean, shuttles on the order of one in a hundred. So there is -- you can be on a combat mission in fighter planes and you would have to fly many, many missions before you would expose yourself to the kind of probability of loss of crew that we have in space. So probability of loss of crew of one in a thousand is still a goal, I think, trying to get to that.

So having space tourism, the kind that we, you know, sort of have read about, that's going to require a lot of cooperation with government to drive the reliabilities in the right direction, to have a larger market beyond the space station. I think the moon is one that has that potential to serve government interests.

And with that, I've heard Bob always has more ideas than me.

WALKER: (Chuckles.) Well, I think that -- I think where we're headed is toward a lot more activity in low Earth orbit. If any one of these commercial vehicles ends up being space-worthy, the fact is, they're being designed for seven people to fly on. NASA will need four of those seats. That means there's three seats there that could be used for other purposes. And that does open up the potential of a Bigelow inflatable hotel in low Earth orbit. There are -- there are things that can begin to happen here that will be very different from the space program that we've known up until this time.

The space station could serve as a focal point for a space industrial park made up of Bigelow-types of modules, not necessarily attached to the station, but that would float in close proximity to the station.

You know, there are -- there are potentials out there once you have a reasonably inexpensive way of getting to low Earth orbit. At no time in the near future is it going to be inexpensive, but when you can bring down the price of a seat from $60 million a seat down to about $20 million a seat, that changes the dynamic that you're dealing with here.

FALLOWS: There is lots more to discuss, but I think you'll agree with me, this has been a fascinating overview for this past hour. Please join me in thanking Robert Walker and Scott Pace. (Applause.)

(C) COPYRIGHT 2013, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1120 G STREET NW; SUITE 990; WASHINGTON, DC - 20005, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.

UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION.

FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.

FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL 202-347-1400 OR EMAIL INFO@FEDNEWS.COM.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

More on This Topic

Audio

The Future of U.S. Space Policy

Speakers: Scott Pace and Robert Walker
Presider: James Fallows

Scott Pace and Robert Walker discuss U.S. space program budget cuts, the indefinite cancellation of U.S.-government-sponsored human space...

Video

The Future of U.S. Space Policy

Speakers: Scott Pace and Robert Walker
Presider: James Fallows

Scott Pace and Robert Walker discuss U.S. space program budget cuts, the indefinite cancellation of U.S.-government-sponsored human space...

Article

Waste of Space

Author: Micah Zenko
ForeignPolicy.com

Orbit space debris threatens U.S. space assets and assured access to the domain. Micah Zenko argues that the United States has a unique...