OpEd: The Nixon Space Doctrine Needs a Marburger Update

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  Space News Business

OpEd: The Nixon Space Doctrine Needs a Marburger Update

By JEFF KRUKIN

posted: 02 December 2008
04:53 pm ET





In his op-ed “Time to Replace the Nixon Space Doctrine,” [Sept. 29, page 12], John Logsdon provided valuable historical perspective with his review of that doctrine and the resulting “almost 40 years of a dysfunctional space policy environment.” I don’t think you can argue with the impact of the doctrine as described by Dr. Logsdon, but I believe its relevance today and his proposed solution deserve further examination.

First, here is the doctrine text he emphasized: “We must think of [space activities] as part of a continuous process … and not as a series of separate leaps, each requiring a massive concentration of energy. Space expenditures must take their proper place within a rigorous system of national priorities. … What we do in space from here on must become a normal and regular part of our national life.”

Since the doctrine was implemented with the only methods possible during the early decades of the space age, a federal space program requiring political support, the status quo should not be a surprise. And yet, there is great wisdom in the overall thrust of the doctrine. A “continuous process” is certainly preferable and more efficient than “a series of separate leaps.”

In a democracy, it is difficult to argue against the notion that taxpayer-funded “space expenditures take their place within a rigorous system of national priorities.” From the perspective of the general public that pays all the government bills, why should the space program be special? Why should it not have to demonstrate its merit like all other government programs and show it is deserving of public funding? And if you were to circumvent this, how would you do so; a “black” program like those used for military and intelligence budgets that must be kept secret? What kind of civil space program would that create?

As for the last sentence of the doctrine, it is worth considering this within the context provided by Dr. Logsdon: “It is time to treat the U.S. space science and exploration program as it actually is: not as ‘a normal and regular part of our national life’ but as an element of the national portfolio that can only be successful if it is supported outside the ebb and flow of normal politics.”

Space science and exploration – and settlement and development, let’s not forget the ultimate goal – must absolutely be a “normal and regular part of our national life” and “an element of the national portfolio.” But “national” must refer to more than government programs and expenditures. Dr. Logsdon is right to call for support “outside the ebb and flow of normal politics,” yet he does not discuss the only realistic way to accomplish this. He does acknowledge that it won’t be accomplished with another Apollo-style effort, which he rightfully describes as “totally unrealistic, and unnecessary.”

At the conclusion of his analysis he posits two possible scenarios; “a long-range funding commitment” or lowered expectations. Unless all our space programs become wrapped in the patina of defense and national security, the former is not going to happen. Even if it did, how long would the commitment last in the face of future demands on the federal budget? When you recall that the last three Apollo missions were canceled despite the incredible success of that program, what reasonable expectation can exist that sufficient funding over multiple decades is likely? As for the second scenario, I’m sure we all agree that is unacceptable.

There is a third scenario that is evolving and has the best chance of creating sustainable space exploration “outside the ebb and flow of normal politics.” John Marburger, President Bush’s science advisor, gave us a clue during a meeting with reporters in 2004, when he said, “The president has accepted the notion that eventually humans will incorporate accessible space into their economic zone.” When you replace “national” with “economic” in the Nixon Doctrine, it becomes relevant to the NewSpace era of the space age, when entrepreneurial and commercial activity ultimately provide the efficient, reliable, and cost-effective space transportation infrastructure that is the necessary precursor to everything that all of us want to do in space.

Governments cannot accomplish this, and right now the private sector cannot accomplish this alone. Public-private partnerships can, if we are wise enough to learn from our history. If Dr. Logsdon were to advise our next president, I would hope a review of successful public-private partnerships would be included.

Once commercial space transportation is in place, and eventually integrated with existing terrestrial intermodal transportation, space becomes just another destination for exploration, science, leisure and commerce. Then we can raise our expectations, because we will have the capabilities that neither the Apollo nor Constellation programs were designed to create.

Jeff Krukin is a NewSpace business development consultant and creator of The Human-Space Connection� concept.

He may be reached via his Web site: www.jeffkrukin.com.