Space exploration is in the midst of a major transformation. Private companies are taking more substantial responsibilities in terms of launches, International Space Station supply missions, and discovery. The future of space exploration will be very different than anything we have seen before. On May 14, the Governance Studies program at Brookings hosted an event to discuss the future of the U.S. space program. The fifth annual A. Alfred Taubman Forum on Public Policy convened two panels of experts who discussed a number of moonshots and policy recommendations regarding the aeronautics industry.
The panelists discussed the impact of private investment into space exploration and the future of space exploration. Industry leaders and academic experts considered number policy proposals that could strengthen the American space program. In addition they reviewed a number of “moonshot policies” or long-shot missions that NASA and space entrepreneurs could take on in the coming years.
● Medicine from Moon Rocks: There is enormous potential for pharmaceutical companies in space. Scientists are exploring extraterrestrial minerals as possible cures for modern diseases. Currently scientists on the International Space Station are conducting drug trials to treat Alzheimer’s. The microgravity expedites the time of the trials because it provides a beneficial environment for macromolecular crystal growth, which could speed up the discovery of a cure.
● Mars Colonization: In 2020 NASA is sending a mission to explore possible habitable regions on Mars. Satellites and robots sent to Mars have found evidence of water. A manned mission could provide insight into whether life exists outside of the solar system.
● Existence of Life: Water is abundant in our solar system and other solar systems in different forms. There is evidence that Europa, Titan, and Enceladus all have water. But there is scant evidence of life on these planets. Scientists want to better understand why life developed on Earth but not Mars.
● STEM: The aeronautics industry must compete with other high tech firms to hire the best and brightest minds. Many STEM majors are eschewing Cape Canaveral for Silicon Valley. Private firms are forming partnerships with universities to attract the nation’s top students. Government support of such programs could help achieve America’s space objectives.
● Overregulation: The aeronautics industry has too many regulations. Both the Commerce and State Departments regulate space travel which slows regulatory processes. The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) declares that the Department of State is responsible for the export and temporary import of defense articles and services. The innovators in the aeronautics field consider this a barrier to innovation.
● Ties Between Science and Defense: Improved communication between NASA and DoD could have big benefits for research. For example the Clementine Mission to the moon was a DoD mission, but NASA was also able to access their data.
● Earth Observation: With more sophisticated Earth Observation from space, weather forecasting will become more exact and scientists will be able to better monitor pollution. If we had the technology to monitor the earth in detail, we might have known what happened to Malaysian Flight 370. Investment in the next generation of satellites could help several domestic agencies.
● Legal Environment in Space: The US Government generally is responsible for their own spacecraft. But now that private companies are becoming more involved, who is liable if a ship crashes into a house in a foreign country? Regulators must address these issues to allow businesses to flourish.
The aeronautics industry is far from its glory days, but the future of space is filled with excitement. You can watch the full event here and to learn more you can read Darrell West’s TechTank post, “How Space Exploration Propels Scientific Discovery, Tourism, Mining, and the Economy,” here.