Space program should focus on Earth, NRC tells Obama

Washington, DC – The US civil space program should focus more on looking after the Earth, the National Research Council (NRC) has warned.

In its report, the NRC calls for a stronger focus on broader environmental, economic and strategic national goals. Earth stewardship should be an important focus of future space activities, it says, with NASA and NOAA leading the formation of an international satellite-observing system to monitor global climate change.

Funding, however, remains a concern, and the report calls for more investment in technology and innovation. An NRC panel warned President Obama yesterday that the present level of funding is simply not enough to keep NASA at the “leading edge” and accomplish everything that’s planned. “The civil space program is not funded at the level needed to successfully accomplish its varying missions,” said the panel.

NASA should cooperate with other agencies and international partners to continue scientific exploration in space, seeking knowledge of the universe and searching for life beyond Earth, says thwe NRC. It also recommends revitalizing NASA’s advanced technology development program by establishing a DARPA-like organization within NASA to support priority civil and commercial space programs, and the development of space technologies with both civil and defense applications.

NASA should also be actively pursuing human spaceflight, including missions beyond low-Earth orbit, and should use these ventures as an opportunity to collaborate with emerging economic powers.

Meanwhile, former astronaut Charles Bolden is due to appear today for Senate confirmation of his appointment as NASA administrator. He is due to take over at the end of August.