A new report from the National Research Council cites difficulties in funding human space exploration, including the lack of a majority agreement on a single rationale for the endeavor.
The congressionally mandated report argued for a continuation to the United States' human exploration program and an increased budget to maintain it in order to pursue the long-term goal of setting foot on Mars. But hurdles to getting the funding it needs exist in a lack of awareness from the public.
While public opinion of the space program has always been mostly positive, the report finds that most of the public is apathetic toward the topic, does not feel well-informed, and does not consider investing money in the program to be a priority. Further, surveys revealed that among neither the public nor among stakeholders is there any majority consensus on a single rationale for human spaceflight.
Historical rationales used to justify a human spaceflight program have included economic benefits, national security, national stature and international relations, inspiration for science and engineering education, contributions to science and knowledge, a shared human destiny and urge to explore, and the eventual survival of the human species. The report argues that the last two rationales and associated practical benefits should justify the continuation of the program.
"Human space exploration remains vital to the national interest for inspirational and aspirational reasons that appeal to a broad range of U.S. citizens," said Purdue University president, former Governor of Indiana, and committee co-chair Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. "But given the expense of any human spaceflight program and the significant risk to the crews involved, in our view the only pathways that fit these criteria are those that ultimately place humans on other worlds."
The report states that under the current budget, a manned Mars mission will never happen. With proper funding, that goal is still decades and hundreds of billions of dollars away.
"Our committee concluded that any human exploration program will only succeed if it is appropriately funded and receives a sustained commitment on the part of those who govern our nation. That commitment cannot change direction election after election. Our elected leaders are the critical enablers of the nation's investment in human spaceflight, and only they can assure that the leadership, personnel, governance, and resources are in place in our human exploration program," Daniels said.
What do you believe is the strongest rationale for human spaceflight?