Second View

Second View: A Dream for a Strong and Vibrant NASA

Written by: developer

This Second View is authored by Space Foundation Vice President – Washington Operations Brendan Curry.

As you are probably aware by now (even if only through reading this issue of Space Watch), the Space Foundation has spent well over a year researching and writing our new paper, PIONEERING: Sustaining U.S. Leadership in Space.

America’s civil space enterprise has had to deal with many challenges over the decades, often technical, but even more often the super-heated challenges of politics and the mundane obstacles caused by public administration. NASA isn’t the only body to have to deal with these issues, but we feel NASA’s very special nature can make these challenges more painful and more difficult than perhaps they are for other federal agencies. NASA is, without a doubt, the highest profile and largest entity in America’s civil space efforts. All of us in this industry share a burning passion for NASA and the amazing work done day-in-day-out by the dedicated men and women who work there as well as their contractor partners. We want them to succeed. That’s why we published this report.

While, over the decades, there have been many, many reports that tried to recommend ways to help the agency succeed in accomplishing its various missions, we found that many focused on either giving NASA a single target destination to work towards OR asking NASA to commit itself to developing some sort of enabling technology that would at some point in the future enable new capabilities for the nation. And, of course, the other popular “fallback” recommendation is to give NASA a larger budget. 

Interesting ideas. But, we felt that there had to be other factors that caused NASA to experience the challenges it has faced since the end of Apollo. We believed we could say something new and different to help in the ongoing space policy dialogue.

We made it a point to be inclusive in this effort. We made it a point to review many and varied reports – whether we agreed with them or not. More importantly, we had candid and productive discussions with a broad array of individuals with an equally broad set of experience in the U.S. space industry. We also set out to engage people of various levels in the industry to help avoid drifting into the conventional wisdom of one particular group or outlook. We were very fortunate that many of our interviewees referred us to additional experts to help maximize a wide array of opinions and honest perspectives. To encourage maximum candidness and openness, all interviews were done off-record and not-for-attribution. And, there was no requirement or expectation that our interviewees would endorse the actual recommendations. We just asked them what they thought and we listened.

With respect to document research, PIONEERING: Sustaining U.S. Leadership in Space involved an extensive literature review of content dealing directly with space policy, as well as other areas of note, including public administration, political science, management, history and even philosophy. If a book isn’t cited in text, it doesn’t mean that the book has been overlooked.

To help maximize impartiality, no underwriters or interviewees had seen any of the report content prior to release. They were given no editorial influence over content, aside from the information they may have communicated in interviews. 

The only people outside the Space Foundation who saw the report in advance were a panel of peer reviewers who helped us make the report clear and logical.

To avoid inadvertently adopting a bias towards a select solution advocated by a particular group or individual, we avoided standard, cliché questions such as “should NASA simply send people to Mars?” Instead, we explored questions of what people and organizations think about the space program – and why. These responses were synthesized into an understanding that was further augmented by additional research and reading.

Our report doesn’t designate winners or losers by advocating a specific destination or particular technology to be a panacea for America’s civil space efforts. We looked for a more sustainable solution – and we believe we found it.

We feel strongly this is an honest, good faith attempt at the broadest and most favorable win-win solution for everyone involved. This is not an attempt to needlessly stir the pot in space policy circles and see our community at odds with itself. That wouldn’t help any of us, most of all, the agency we all care about. Rather, we hope to build constructive dialogue that can lead to meaningful change that will benefit all to us.

You may ask, “why now?” The timing was dictated by the coming expiration of the existing NASA Authorization Act and the opportunity for policy review that comes following a general election. At a very broad level, NASA has a long decade ahead of it with a lot of major projects with programmatic and budgetary risks, all in a tight budget environment. Increasing technical risk with tighter budgets can lead to big problems. We hope we can help address issues now to help NASA avoid future difficulties that come from taking on big technical challenges when funding is tight, and do so in a lasting, permanent way.

On a personal level, as a kid, I dreamed of being able to work “in space.” I never thought I would, to be candid, since I’m terrible in math. Working in the space business seemed too wild and fantastic. Well, life is funny and I am fortunate to work in this industry that’s primary tools are thunderous launch vehicles and increasingly sophisticated, smart and capable spacecraft. These tools reveal the mysteries of the universe, help us in countless ways on Earth and maintain a human presence in space. NASA is a major part of this industry. NASA helps lead the way in technical terms and in providing an incalculable amount of inspiration. 

It is my desire – and the desire of all of us at the Space Foundation – to see a strong, vibrant NASA so our children can take those next “giant leaps.” It is our hope that PIONEERING: Sustaining U.S. Leadership in Space can help contribute to that future.


Brendan W. Curry
Vice President – Washington Operations

As Vice President – Washington Operations, Brendan Curry leads the Space Foundation’s government affairs efforts based in Washington, D.C., serving as principal interface with key customers, staff and officials in the Administration, Congress, space industry and federal agencies including NASA and the Departments of Defense, Commerce, State, Education and Transportation. He is also responsible for the Space Foundation’s Research & Analysis functions, including policy analysis, Space Foundation Indices, White Papers and special reports and the Space Foundation’s annual analysis and report on the state of the space industry, The Space Report: The Authoritative Guide to Global Space Activity. Previously, Curry was the senior legislative assistant to Congressman Dave Weldon, M.D. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Scranton and Juris Doctor of Law degree from Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law.

This article is part of Space Watch: December 2012 (Volume: 11, Issue: 12).

Posted in Second View