Delivering its summary report yesterday to the White House and NASA, the Augustine commission surprised no one by declaring that the U.S. human spaceflight program is "on an unsustainable trajectory." But while its call for a bigger agency budget, its qualms about going to Mars, and its support for commercial involvement received most of the media attention, the report also flags an issue largely neglected during its 2 months of hearings.
That issue is international collaboration, and it's an obvious way to tackle both the budget shortfall and the need to tap what is increasingly a multinational enterprise. "If the United States is willing to lead a global program of exploration, sharing both the burden and benefit of space exploration in a meaningful way, significant benefits could follow," declares the 12-page summary. Working with partners abroad is likely to get more attention when the commission's chairman, Norman Augustine, and the NASA administrator testify next Tuesday before the House of Representatives science committee.
The report also urges NASA to broaden its horizons—and return to its roots—by developing new technologies that could seed decades of space exploration. "If appropriately funded, a technology development program would re-engage minds at American universities, in industry, and within NASA. … and reduce the costs of future exploration."