A Department of Space to Enable Human Spaceflight and the Future Settlement of Space

A concept for a large space settlement capable of supporting several thousand people in orbit around the Earth or deep space locations like Luna and Mars orbits.
  • What are the important benefits provided to the United States and other countries by human spaceflight endeavors? The human spaceflight programs have demonstrated through the Apollo Program, Space Shuttle Program, ISS Program, and the Hubble Space Telescope Program that humans can travel to distant bodies and operate on their surface, live and work in space, construct and maintain large systems in space, and repair large space systems to expand their capabilities and extend their life for decades. All these accomplishments have been demonstrated in the human spaceflight programs but have not been transitioned into the commercial sector for their benefit and the realization of the economic potential that these systems could provide. Human spaceflight has servicing capabilities that need to be integrated into a satellite servicing industry and all commercial space-based systems. Such integration could make the entire space industry more efficient and responsive to new business opportunities. Part of the reason integration has not occurred in the U.S. is because responsibility and oversight of space is scattered among the many government organizations cited above.
  • What are the greatest challenges to sustaining a U.S. government program in human spaceflight? The greatest challenges to the human spaceflight program are the lack of long term goals and objectives that can be sustained over multiple Administrations, and the constant budget pressures of special interest groups from competing Congressional districts. Human spaceflight cannot operate efficiently in this manner, and so the results are fragmentary with numerous false starts on multiple programs. As a result there is no consensus among the many Departments and Agencies as to the importance of the goals and budget priorities initiated by human spaceflight and the other related space programs.
  • What are the ramifications and what would the nation and the world loose if the United States terminated NASA’s human spaceflight program? Loss of NASA’s human spaceflight program would be a major step backwards in our advancement as a species and in the technologies human spaceflight has produced. Space development in general has done much to help identify the issues facing humankind including the impact we are having on our environment and the limits to our resources on this planet. Human spaceflight has the tools we need to move beyond Earth orbit, and at the same time has developed new technologies that enhance our health and quality of life here on Earth.
  • Developing space systems that will protect the Earth from asteroid impacts
  • Developing space resources to preserve the finite resources of Earth and support new developments in space
  • Developing space infrastructures to promote safe transportation, satellite servicing, and human habitation systems
  • Develop new technologies with industry for reusable transportation, radiation protection, and artificial gravity systems
  • Develop long term infrastructure strategies that will enable our society to become a multi- planet/spacefaring civilization
  • Develop strategies to build space infrastructure similar to the way the U.S. Government has been involved in the interstate highway system, air traffic control system, railroads, power, water, and other basic transportation and utility systems.
  • Leverage tax revenue from mature and profitable space industries to fund space exploration and space infrastructure development initiatives. This could include legislation that will use tax revenues from profitable space-based industries such as the communications satellite industry to feed back into space infrastructure developments.
  • Demonstrate proactive space industry initiatives through consideration of actions such as anchor tenancy, tax credits, consortium support, trade promotion, education, and endorsement to promote private investments in space development.
  • Facilitate the creation of innovative financing opportunities, such as a space development bank, limited liability insurance, and Government-guaranteed loans to reduce the risk and cost of new space investments.
  • Initiate a comprehensive solar system geological survey to determine potentially profitable resources and to support asteroid detection, characterization, and hazard mitigation. Provide incentives for commercial identification and extraction of samples from near-Earth asteroids and the Moon.
  • Establish policy that supports extraterrestrial mining claims and strengthens the property rights of industry for their investments in space. Establish goals and incentives for an industrial facility on the Moon that will support the growth of a space infrastructure for ongoing Earth/lunar traffic, propellant production, materials development, and scientific exploration.
  • Contract with industry to the greatest extent possible for transportation services, equipment, products, and data, to satisfy space science, exploration, weather, and military needs.
  • Establish safety, rescue, and escape system standards for the general public’s use of commercial space transportation and space habitation facility developments.
  • Take a leadership role in the development of key ground-based and space-based infrastructure elements — especially the facilities and vehicle systems needed for low-cost reliable space transportation services.
  • Seek new market opportunities in space as an evolving role from analogous Earth-based services.
  • Conduct outreach to capital markets and begin to cultivate an awareness and confidence conducive to securing financing.
  • Identify with industry the enabling technologies and systems that are not yet profitable enough to pursue commercially, but should be developed by Government.
  • Provide the fundamental knowledge base for future space development by injecting space development issues into K-12 and college curricula.
  • Lead in aggressive educational programs designed to teach the general public and upcoming generations about the space environment and the potential that space development offers. These programs should include a focus on space development’s tremendous economic potential and the impact this growth and prosperity could have on peace and stability worldwide.
  • Conduct research to investigate and resolve ongoing health issues for human spaceflight including the effects and mitigation approaches to prolonged space radiation and microgravity exposure.
  • Develop and demonstrate technology for large-volume construction systems, rotating artificial gravity habitation systems, closed-loop life support systems, and radiation protection systems.
  • Develop highly reusable rocket engines with hundreds of flights between overhauls, and provide incentives for the development of more orbital and suborbital vehicles to demonstrate new technologies and new approaches to space transportation.
  • Develop on-orbit propellant-refueling infrastructures for future commercial activities and government exploration vehicles to extend the range, payload capability, maneuverability, and reusability of in-space transportation systems and a robust satellite servicing industry.
  1. Smitherman, D, “New Space Industries For The Next Millennium,” NASA/CP–1998–209006, December 1998.
  2. Smitherman, D., H. Everett, “Strategies for Human Exploration Leading to the Human Colonization of Space,” AIAA Space 2009 Conference & Exposition, Paper №6491, September 2009.
  3. Smitherman, D., G. Woodcock, “Space Transportation Infrastructure Supported by Propellant Depots,” AIAA Space 2011 Conference & Exposition, Paper №1073033, September 2011.

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David Smitherman

David Smitherman

Retired from NASA. Architect, space architect and writer on science, technology, travel, and social issues. See the “Reading List” for introductory Greetings.