From Here to Mars: My Testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space

Senate Subcommittee on Science & Space
Senate Subcommittee on Science & Space

Ten years ago I came out with a book, “Partners in Space: US-Russian Cooperation after the Cold War.” Perhaps for that reason, I was asked to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and Space. Titled, “From Here to Mars,” the April 9, 2014 hearing featured experts on NASA exploration strategy, international cooperation in space, and commercial space efforts. Chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL) presided and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was also present at the hearing:

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to testify before you today. It is an honor to be here.

I hope to address the geopolitical issues surrounding NASA’s exploration efforts. It is impossible to think about a space exploration strategy, however, without putting it into the context of today’s events in Russia and in Ukraine.

I support well-targeted sanctions on Russia, which will have a direct impact on President Putin’s thinking. But for reasons that I will outline, I believe that rolling back space cooperation could be counterproductive and damaging to our national security and our long-term space agenda.

International cooperation is vital if missions of increasing complexity are on the international agenda, such as Mars.

During the Cold War, scientific and technical communities played a vital role in serving as a bridge between the United States and the Soviet Union, especially during times of crisis. Many multilateral and even bilateral interactions survived the Soviet invasion of Hungary, Sputnik, the U-2 incident, the Cuban missile crisis – as well as the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and later Afghanistan.

But since the Cold War ended, US-Russian cooperation on nuclear security and in space has been at the heart of enhancing the United States’ national security.

The restrictive measures on space cooperation announced by NASA last week, however, could well threaten our achievements of the last twenty years.

Here are three reasons why we need to lift last week’s ban on all cooperation outside of the operations related to the ISS:

1. Our national security is greatly enhanced through cooperation

Since 1992, US-Russian cooperation in space has had a positive impact on the transformation of the Russian aerospace industry, which was, at the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse, a bastion of Soviet hardliners. US interaction with the Russians on the Shuttle-Mir program and then the International Space Station brought unprecedented transparency and access to sensitive Russian facilities, along with a growing adoption, in Russia, of western best practices.

Since then, the lessons we have learned together have strengthened our overall performance in space beyond just the ISS, and have provided an indispensable window into the workings of the Russian military-industrial establishment.

2. If the goal of limiting cooperation is designed to send a strong message to President Putin, we need be careful. It could backfire.

The scientific community, as opposed to the aerospace industry, was traditionally the most progressive of all political sectors in the Soviet Union. But today, as a result of our cooperation, both of those sectors in Russia see us as their friends. Rather than sending a strong message to President Putin, suspension of cooperation will strengthen political hardliners who would prefer that Russia “go it alone” or work with countries more sympathetic to their views.

3. Safety depends on trust.

Much has been said about our mutual dependency in space. Safety of human life requires cooperation. At the moment, operations on the space station are proceeding as normal. Trust, however– that invaluable yet fragile commodity– can be easily eroded. NASA’s announcement last week that it will suspend “the majority of its ongoing engagements,” including high level visits, email exchanges and video conferencing could leave many of our friends in Russia high and dry and potentially change the more general atmosphere. Collective attitudes even in the Russian space sector could change, which might negatively impact working relationships on the ISS and potentially even safety.

As we know from history, it is always easier to terminate space cooperation than it is to get it started again. And we will not be able to meet our long-term goals in space without it. We should consider establishing the general principle going forward that space cooperation should be exempt from sanctions.

Space has unique capacities to serve the global community. It can be a force for preventive diplomacy, transparency and for sustaining and building bonds among those who are willing to put aside solely national pursuits. The lynchpin of this goal must be engagement. We must be wary of any space policy that provides only short-term symbolic satisfaction, just as we should be cautious of those in both countries who might want to exploit this crisis for short-term commercial or political gain. They could, ultimately, undermine our long-term strategy in space and possibly jeopardize the enormous human and financial investment we have already made.

Watch the hearing and see Ms. Eisenhower’s testimony, which has been posted on the Senate’s website.

For press coverage of yesterday’s hearing, please see an article from The Orlando Sentinel titled “Nelson and Rubio discuss NASA’s plan to restrict ties to Russia” and an op-ed published yesterday by Marina Koren in the National Journal. 

Susan Eisenhower (seated third from left) delivers verbal testimony to Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio at the "From Here to Mars" hearing on April 9, 2014.
Susan Eisenhower (seated second from right) delivers verbal testimony to Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio at the “From Here to Mars” hearing on April 9, 2014.

6 thoughts on “From Here to Mars: My Testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space

  1. Dear Susan, I just found this site and read a few articles. Quite interesting. Maybe you will remember me. I’m Igor — the guy who, among other things, opened the doors in the Rossia hotel in Moscow about 30 years ago for you, Caroline and your aide. 🙂 Hope you all are fine. If you see this, please say hello to them for me. BR, Igor

  2. COPY of Email sent to NASA & ESA

    Dear NASA,

    Since Sputnik , humanity has engaged in a piecemeal exploration of space with no global effort to really get out there. Collaboration does not yet involve every country interested in space exploration to be part of an international project.

    The main priority for the NASA is to first recognize the need for international cooperation on a mega project… What I am suggesting is that no country be left out : China , Russia , USA , Canada, Europe, etc , etc … What is this multi-trillion dollar project , how would we finance it and why is it really necessary at this time ??

    It is time , I feel , for NASA to convince every other space agency on Earth to convince each of their governments to divert 5% of their military expenditure and personnel to the creation of a non-military agency for the sole purpose of establishing a self sufficient city on the Moon. This new agency , the Lunar City Agency (LCA) would work in conjunction with all the existing space agencies.The LCA would be non-military and its personnel would become non-military.

    I realize that at first sight this may all seem rather ridiculous and that the obstacles are nearly impossible to resolve but the idea of total international cooperation in the exploration of space is an idea which must finally take hold if we as a species are to continue coexisting on Earth and truly continue venturing into space…

    So let the idea germinate and realize the amazing science and astronomy which would eventually come from its fruition not to mention the amazing engineering problems to resolve along the way. Of course the main problems are not scientific as much as they are political and military.NASA would convince the other space agencies, they in turn would convince their politicians who would then have their military representatives decide which programs they would all decide to not work on or cease pursuing…

    Why do I feel that this is NASA’s main priority ?
    If we do not start to reverse course now ,can we guarantee that we will still be here to explore space in 100 years? Leaving out China will prove to be a mistake..

  3. Well Said Susan…All points were ever so relevant. The Strategies do start at home- There can be no advancement without cooperation, and it does have a parallel effect on many fronts, including National Security.
    Taking the harsh stance or the soft stance is a balance into it’s self…
    A very interesting post here Susan.
    YOU matter !!!
    Thanks 🙂

  4. Although the space program has made many contributions to science it is very expensive and took money away from the development of nuclear energy. Now that we have more information about climate change and are becoming increasingly aware of the effects of climate change on ocean acidity, fishing, health, rising sea levels, flooding, storms and various other harmful effects we should give higher priority to nuclear energy. Nuclear reactors do not emit greenhouse gases and provide base power, not intermittent power like solar and wind. Unless our representatives are willing to raise taxes we may have to reduce our commitment to space if we want to build more and better nuclear reactors. I am not suggesting abandoning astronauts presently in th space station. The mission to Mars should be reevaluated in relation to our present priorities, not those of the 1960’s.

  5. I agree with this and it makes me think of cooperation on the atom, and Ike’s “Atoms for Peace” program. Sorry to digress, but today Russia is selling the US 16,000 of its warheads, with their plutonium fuel. Great.

    But we need much more cooperation not only from Russia by from all the nuclear powers. I wonder how many people realize that the climate change crisis can be strongly impacted by the second, third ,and fourth generation breeder reactors…i.e, the Integrated Fast Reactor. Unlike 50 years ago, none of these have the capability of meltdown, and nearly all fuel can be recycled on site. They are sustainable and produce no carbon dioxide. Reactor design has been totally revolutionized since the 50s, first generation light water reactor designs.

    I think that Ike would have seized the promise of today’s new technology, and molded it into decisions which would confront the climate change challenge directly. We are not doing so today for many reasons….An important one of them is lack of political courage, vision, and leadership.

  6. Very well stated, which is, of course, no surprise. I hope it is not like a tree falling in an empty forest. It makes a sound (technical) but not a noise (which needs a human receiver). Who on the Committee will make a noise? Will the Press pick up your testimony and the key points, and force others (the “Administration”) to make a noise? Your points are so logical, and have, as you stated, been proven in many instances in the past.

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