Order Code RS21866
Updated June 22, 2004
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Space Exploration: Report of the Aldridge
Commission on Implementation of President
Bush’s Exploration Initiative
Marcia S. Smith
Specialist in Aerospace and Telecommunications Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
When President George W. Bush announced new exploration goals for the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on January 14, 2004, he also said he
would establish a commission to provide advice on how to implement the initiative.
Chaired by Edward C. “Pete” Aldridge, Jr., the commission submitted its report on June
16, 2004. Four of its recommendations may frame congressional debate on the report:
to convert NASA’s field centers into Federally Funded Research and Development
Centers (FFRDCs), to create a White House Space Exploration Steering Council, to
increase the role of the private sector in space activities, and to set certain conditions for
international participation. This report will not be updated.
Background and Commission Members
On January 14, 2004, President Bush made a major space policy address in which
he directed NASA to focus its activities on returning humans to the Moon by 2020, and
someday sending them to Mars and “worlds beyond.” The initiative involves both human
and robotic space missions, and the President invited other countries to participate. See
CRS Report RS21720 for more information on the President’s new exploration initiative.
The President simultaneously announced that he would create a commission to make
recommendations on implementing the vision, and that it would be chaired by Edward
C. “Pete” Aldridge, Jr., former Secretary of the Air Force. The President’s Commission
on Implementation of United States Space Exploration was formally created on January
27, 2004, and given 120 days from the date of its first meeting to submit a report.
In addition to Mr. Aldridge, the Commission members were: Carleton “Carly”
Fiorina, chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Hewlett Packard; Michael
Jackson, senior vice president of AECOM Technology, and former Deputy Secretary of
the Department of Transportation; Laurie Leshin, director of Arizona State University’s
Center for Meteorite Studies; Gen. Lester Lyles (Ret.), former commander of Air Force
Materiel Command; Paul Spudis, planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Applied Physics Laboratory; Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and Director of the
Hayden Planetarium; Robert Walker, chairman and CEO of Wexler and Walker Public
Policy Associates, and former Chairman of the House Science Committee, U.S. House
of Representatives; and Maria Zuber, head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and
Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Summary of the Commission’s Findings and Recommendations
The Commission submitted its report to Vice President Cheney on June 16, 2004.
The report, A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover, is available at the
Commission’s website [http://www.moontomars.org].
Its eight findings and 15
recommendations are paraphrased in the following table.
Aldridge Commission Findings and Recommendations
The long-term, ambitious space agenda advanced by the
President will significantly help the United States protect its
technological leadership, economic vitality and security.
The vision must be managed as a significant national priority,
a shared commitment of the President, Congress, and the
The President should establish a permanent Space Exploration
Steering Council, reporting to the President, chaired by the Vice
President or other senior White House executive, to develop
policies and coordinate work across agencies to share
technologies, facilities, and talent.
NASA’s relationship to the private sector, its organizational
structure, business culture, and management processes —
largely inherited from the Apollo era — must be decisively
The private sector should assume the primary role of providing
services to NASA, especially accessing low Earth orbit. NASA’s
role must be limited to only those areas where there is irrefutable
demonstration that only the government can perform the proposed
NASA should be transformed to become more focused and
effectively integrated to implement the vision, with a structure that
affixes clear authority and accountability.
NASA Centers should be reconfigured as Federally Funded
Research and Development Centers (FFRDC’s) to enable
innovation, to work effectively with the private sector, and to
stimulate economic development, although certain functions
should remain under federal management.
Three new NASA organizations should be created: a technical
advisory board to give NASA’s leadership independent and
responsible advice on technology and risk mitigation plans; an
independent cost estimating organization; and a research and
technology organization that sponsors high risk/high payoff
technology advancement while tolerating periodic failures.
NASA should adopt personnel and management reforms,
including the use of a “system-of-systems” approach; policies of
spiral, evolutionary development; reliance on lead system
integrators; and independent technical and cost assessments.
Successful development of enabling technologies is critical to
attaining exploration objectives within reasonable schedules
and affordable costs.
NASA should form special project teams for each enabling
technology to: conduct initial assessments of the technologies,
develop a roadmap leading to mature technologies, integrate
technologies into the exploration architecture, and develop a plan
for transition of technologies to the private sector.
Sustaining long-term exploration requires a robust space
industry that will contribute to national economic growth,
produce new products, and lead the world in invention and
innovation. That industry will become a national treasure.
NASA should aggressively use its contractual authority to reach
into the commercial and nonprofit communities to bring out the
best ideas, technologies, and management tools.
Congress should increase the potential for commercial
opportunities related to the vision by providing incentives for
entrepreneurial investment in space, creating significant monetary
prizes for accomplishing space missions and/or technology
development, and assuring property rights for those seeking to
develop space resources and infrastructure.
International talents and technologies will be of significant
value in implementing the vision. Tapping into the global
marketplace is consistent with using private sector resources
to meet mission goals.
NASA should pursue international partnerships based on an
architecture that would encourage global investment in support of
Scientific knowledge will enable, and be enabled by,
implementation of the vision.
NASA should seek routine input from the scientific community on
exploration architectures to ensure maximum use is made of
existing assets and emerging capabilities.
NASA should ask the National Academy of Sciences to engage its
constituent scientific community in a re-evaluation of priorities to
exploit opportunities created by the vision, especially how
machines and humans, used separately and in combination, can
maximize scientific returns.
A discovery-based criterion should be used to select destinations
beyond the Moon and Mars that also considers affordability,
technical maturity, scientific importance, and emerging capability
such as access to in-situ space resources
The vision offers extraordinary opportunities to stimulate
math, science, and engineering excellence for America’s
students and teachers, and to engage the public in a journey
that will shape the course of human destiny.
The Space Exploration Steering Council should work with the
education community and state and local political leaders to
produce an action plan that leverages the vision in support of the
nation’s commitment to improve math, science, and engineering
Industry, professional organizations, and the media should engage
the public in understanding why space exploration is vital to our
scientific, economic, and security interests.
Source: Paraphrased by CRS from the Commission’s report, available at [http://www.moontomars.org].
The Commission emphasized that the vision is a “go as you can pay” endeavor, in
which technological advances and discoveries will be made on an incremental basis based
on whatever level of funding the country provides. Noting that accomplishing the vision
will take decades, spanning multiple presidential terms and sessions of Congress, the
Commission identified three “imperatives for success”: sustainability, affordability, and
credibility. The report concluded that “While discovery is the goal of space exploration,
the Commission is certain that the benefits here on Earth will make the journey at least
as important as the destination.” (p. 6).
Selected Issues for Congress
The President’s vision, and the Commission’s report, pose many issues for Congress.
CRS Report RS21720 identifies issues associated with the vision overall, and CRS Report
RS21744 discusses it in the context of the FY2005 NASA budget. Four of the
Commission’s recommendations that may be of particular interest are the following.
Converting NASA Centers to Federally Funded Research and
Development Centers (FFRDCs). NASA is managed from NASA Headquarters in
Washington, D.C. It has nine major field centers: Ames Research Center, Moffett Field,
CA; Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA; Glenn Research Center,
Cleveland, OH; Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD; Johnson Space Center,
Houston, TX; Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, FL: Langley Research Center,
Hampton, VA; Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL; Stennis Space Center,
in Mississippi, near Slidell, LA.
Another NASA facility, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, is
often referred to as a 10th NASA center, but actually is an FFRDC operated for NASA by
the California Institute of Technology. JPL executes many of NASA’s planetary
exploration programs, and is one of 36 FFRDCs. Many of the others are operated for the
Department of Energy (DOE) or Department of Defense (DOD). Commission Chairman
Aldridge was President of a DOD FFRDC, the Aerospace Corporation, from 1992-2001.
FFRDCs are not-for-profit entities exclusively or substantially funded by the federal
government that are created pursuant to Federal Acquisition Regulations.1 Those
regulations specify that FFRDCs should be created only if an agency cannot accomplish
an activity in-house, through other government agencies, or through traditional
government procurement procedures. Most FFRDCs operate under five-year contracts
with the sponsoring agency. They are not subject to Office of Personnel Management
regulations and thus may offer better salaries and benefits than the government, and adapt
more readily to changing requirements. Limits are placed on their activities. For
example, they cannot compete with for-profit companies for other government contracts.
Congress has been debating FFRDCs for several years, such as whether they still are
needed, whether they are straying from their intended purposes, and whether they are
receiving appropriate oversight from their sponsoring agencies. (See CRS Report
RS21542 for more on these issues). How Congress will respond to a recommendation
to create nine more is not clear. Details of how the transition would be accomplished
were not provided. For example, the report specified that contracting, launch operations,
and flight operations should remain under government management within given centers,
but how the government and FFRDC structures would interact was not clarified. Also,
Mr. Aldridge has said that the Commission did not recommend closing any NASA centers
because it was politically unsaleable, but it is not clear how a transition to FFRDCs would
avoid that step. A “transition” or “reconfiguration” into FFRDCs suggests that the
centers would close and associated civil service jobs eliminated. The FFRDCs would hire
whatever employees they needed, which might or might not include the displaced NASA
workers. Congress could specify that NASA employees be transferred to the FFRDCs,
or be given special considerations in FFRDC employment opportunities, but that might
defeat the purpose of converting to FFRDCs — creating personnel flexibility. Other
questions include whether FFRDCs would be more or less cost-effective than government
centers, whether the private sector could perform these activities directly, whether a single
contractor would manage all the NASA FFRDCs or if each would be competed
separately, and, if there are multiple contractors, how they would interact.
Creating a White House Space Exploration Steering Council. Various
White House-level mechanisms have been used to coordinate interagency space policy
over the years. The 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act (P.L. 85-568) created a
National Aeronautics and Space Council in the White House, chaired by the President
(later the Vice President). That council was abolished by President Nixon in 1973. The
Carter and Reagan Administrations used committees under the auspices of the National
Security Council (NSC). Dissatisfied with that approach, Congress created a National
Information in this paragraph is drawn from CRS Report RS21542, Department of Homeland
Security: Issues Concerning Establishment of Federally Funded Research and Development
Centers (FFRDCs), by Michael E. Davey.
Space Council, chaired by the Vice President, in the FY1989 NASA authorization act
(P.L. 100-685). Under President George H. W. Bush’s administration, the Space Council
was chaired by Vice President Quayle. President Clinton merged the Space Council
functions into a National Science and Technology Council, administered through the
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. It oversaw civil and commercial
space policy, while the NSC oversaw military space policy. The Space Council was not
abolished. It still exists in law, but is not staffed or funded. President George W. Bush
uses a Policy Coordinating Committee under the NSC (similar to the Reagan
Administration) for interagency space policy coordination.
The Aldridge Commission argued that the exploration vision must be supported by
the entirety of a President’s team. It recommended creating a Space Exploration Steering
Council, reporting to the President, and chaired by the Vice President or another senior
White House executive. Whether such a council would facilitate interagency space
coordination, or make it more complex, is unclear. For example, the Commission
cautioned that it not become a “forum for bureaucratic micromanagement,” but
simultaneously asserted that it would be a “useful prod for NASA to keep its house in
order.” Those could be conflicting aims. The Commission said that not all interagency
issues related to exploration need to be brought to the Council, and it would not replace
existing mechanisms such as the NASA-DOD Partnership Council. Thus, it would be one
of several parts of a space policy-making apparatus, which could add complexity as well.
Increasing the Role of the Private Sector. The Commission made several
recommendations to stimulate the role of the private sector in space, including that the
private sector assume the primary role of providing services to NASA, especially
accessing low Earth orbit; that prizes be offered for achieving technology breakthroughs;
that Congress create tax incentives; that Congress relieve regulatory obstacles; and that
Congress assure appropriate property rights in space. The Commission concluded that
NASA’s role be limited to areas where there is “irrefutable demonstration that only the
government can perform the proposed activity.” Many of these recommendations have
been made in the past, and much has been said, written, and promised about commercial
space activities over the past two decades. Still, there are few examples of successful
commercial space enterprises. Oft-cited reasons are their high risks and costs, which
make it difficult to attract investors. Because of the long history of debate over space
commercialization, many view the Commission’s recommendations skeptically. NASA
already is taking steps in some of these areas, such as offering prizes, and using the
private sector for access to low Earth orbit. Congress has enacted several laws already,
and a number of bills are pending, including H.R. 644, H.R. 914, H.R. 2358, H.R. 3752,
and S. 1260 (see CRS Issue Brief IB93062 and CRS Issue Brief IB92011).
International Participation. President Bush invited other countries to participate
in the initiative, but the Commission’s report emphasized that this is a U.S. vision and
other countries are being invited to support U.S. goals. The Commission states, for
example: “After establishing the vision architecture and determining what the United
States is willing to cede,...” then international partners could be approached. The
question is whether this attitude will offer sufficient incentives to potential partners, who
may want to play a role in determining the architecture. The Commission identified the
Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program as a possible model for international cooperation,
although it is not clear what analogies exist between that program to build a military
aircraft (see CRS Report RL31360) and this initiative to explore space.