Over the past quarter-century, as the space community has discussed and debated policy issues in the civilian, national security and commercial sectors, SpaceNews, from its first issue on, has been an invaluable source of information, underpinning those discussions and providing a central forum for debate.
The publication has performed two essential functions. One has been high-quality news reporting in all areas of space activity, in the United States and elsewhere around the globe. SpaceNews has served as the “paper of record” for our community. The other extremely valuable contribution is the paper’s role in providing an open forum for opinions on the many issues confronting the space sector.
It is impossible to have a substantive public discussion of policy issues and alternatives without knowing what is actually happening, and the paper has kept the U.S. and global space community extremely well informed. For those of us who work inside the Washington Beltway, weekly reports are probably not our primary way of staying up to the moment with U.S. space news, but they are essential to let us know what is happening in the rest of the world. For the space community outside of Washington, reporting on White House and congressional space policy actions at least gives some sense of the complex and often confusing path leading to U.S. policy actions and choices.
In an area of particular interest to me, SpaceNews has consistently given careful attention to reporting on the fate of proposals for resuming human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit. That issue, of course, has been with us throughout the paper’s tenure. As the first issue of SpaceNews appeared, the space community was debating whether to move forward with President George H.W. Bush’s July 1989 proposal to go “back to the Moon; back to the future. And this time, back to stay. And then a journey into tomorrow, a journey to another planet: a manned mission to Mars.”
Twenty-five years later, the idea of a permanent return to the Moon has fallen by the wayside, at least for the time being, but there is still a presidential proposal on the table saying, “[B]y the mid-2030s … we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow.” Just as was the case in 1989, Mars remains the “horizon goal” for human space exploration. While the 1989 Space Exploration Initiative was stillborn, NASA is today actually building and testing exploration hardware, even as informed external groups question the viability of the space agency’s exploration planning.
SpaceNews has provided continuing, well-informed coverage of the ups and downs of exploration proposals over the past quarter-century. It is the nature of news reporting to focus on the events of the moment, but the cumulative impact of the paper’s reporting is to provide to those interested in space exploration a record of the policy issues involved, the positions of various stakeholders, and ultimately a sense of the likelihood of success in moving people off this planet and into deep space. At the George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, we have encouraged our students to read the paper as a continuing tutorial on current policy issues and the actors involved in addressing them, not just with respect to human exploration but for the space sector as a whole. We see it as an essential tool for educating future space policy professionals.
SpaceNews has also acted as the “debate club” for the space community. The editorial views of the paper itself carry significant weight. But perhaps more important, the paper has published opinion pieces from a very wide range of contributors, with the only criteria for publication being not the status of the author, but that the essay puts forward an interesting idea or expresses a specific point of view. Op-ed essays have ranged from reprinting important statements by space leaders to the often innovative ideas of students and other newcomers to the sector. These opinion pieces do get read and discussed. As an occasional contributor over the past 25 years, I can attest that in my travels in the United States and abroad I have frequently gotten comments, pro and con, on my views as expressed in a SpaceNews essay. This openness to making diverging ideas available to a widespread readership is very healthy, and certainly has influenced space community views and very likely also space policy choices.
And what about the next 25 years? SpaceNews was not around in 1969, when the front page of The New York Times proclaimed in a 96-point headline: “Men Walk on the Moon.” Over the next quarter-century SpaceNews will continue, I hope, to be the “paper of record” for the space community, and the place where thoughtful individuals can put forward their ideas for the community’s scrutiny. And by 2039, a SpaceNews headline may well announce, in bold typeface: “Humans Land on Mars!”
John M. Logsdon is the founder and former director of the Space Policy Institute at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where he remains professor emeritus. His book “After Apollo? Richard Nixon and the American Space Program” will be published in March 2015.