Former Senator Schmitt Reflects On America’s Space Program: Past, Present and Future

The 42nd Anniversary of the humankind’s first lunar landing by Apollo 11 on July 20, 2011, followed by the return of STS-135 on the next day, concluding the final flight of a United States Space Shuttle, places a capstone on the remarkable accomplishments of the post-Apollo generations of space engineers, builders and operators.

Those of us who were in attendance at the launch of Atlantis on July 8, 2011, felt both pride in this final accomplishment and sadness at another unnecessary, ill-conceived and excessively prolonged break in America’s commitment to lead humankind in space. Pad 39A, the Vehicle Assembly Building, and the Crawler Transporter stand in the Florida sunshine as still functional but unwanted relics of past glories. Unfortunately, these momentous events also starkly frame the deficiencies in American space policy relative to long-term national interests. This policy began its slow decline in 1968-69 when the Johnson and Nixon Administrations began the process to end procurements of the Saturn V boosters and spacecraft advocated by Eisenhower and Kennedy for the Apollo Moon-landing Program.

The absence of any significant national goals epitomizes current space policy. That policy lacks any coherent strategy to lead humankind in space and promote liberty there and on Earth. Failure of all Administrations and Congresses since Eisenhower and Kennedy to maintain a sustainable, indefinite commitment to human deep space exploration and settlement has undermined America’s status in the world and the technological foundations necessary for national security and economic growth. We have reached a point where America and its partners depend on Russia for future access to the International Space Station. More critically, we will be ceding the Moon and deep space to China. This should be an intolerable situation to American taxpayers who paid for most of the Space Station and whose Astronauts blazed the trail for humankind to the Moon.

President George W. Bush provided the Nation with a space policy in 2004 that met critical geopolitical requirements. If it had been properly funded by Congress, Bush’s policy would have created a replacement for the Space Shuttle by 2010 and, more importantly, provided for a return to the Moon on the way to Mars. Mr. Bush, however, did not ask Congress for the funds necessary to fully implement his Constellation Program. Constellation nonetheless could have been executed fully when President Barack Obama took office in 2009, although with a several year delay in the availability of the Shuttle replacement spacecraft (Orion).

President Obama, however, soon canceled Constellation, reflecting his personal bias against American exceptionalism and anything identified with Bush. His visions of largely unsupervised private contractors providing astronaut transportation to space and an unproductive visit to an asteroid are just that, unproven “visions” but hardly visionary. In light of increases of trillions of dollars in recent federal government spending, the $3 billion per year cost of implementing a “shovel ready” and “employment ready” Constellation Program appears, relatively, very small. The enormous geopolitical damage to America’s world leadership role that its cancellation has brought about will cost us dearly in the future.

Atlantis’s final arrival in Earth-orbit was historically comparable to the arrivals of the last covered wagon at Western destinations just before the Union Pacific, Central Pacific, Santa Fe and other railroads reached rapidly expanding local economies in the late 1800s. Unbelievably, and unlike the replacement of covered wagon technology with railroad technology, no American replacement exists for the Space Shuttle. Now that Obama has made NASA largely irrelevant in America’s future, the next President and Congress must consider how to reverse this damage to national security and to the future motivation of young Americans.

The next President must seriously consider focusing United States’ space goals on deep space exploration. Until the Space Station must be shut down and deorbited, NASA can continue to be responsible for managing related international obligations. A separate and intense focus on deep space, however, could be accomplished by reassignment of most NASA functions to other agencies and the creation of a new National Space Exploration Agency (NSEA) [see, Essay 46]. This would be a proper tribute to the sacrifices made on behalf of America by the personnel of NASA and its contractors since 1958. A clear commitment to deep space would also restore America’s geopolitical will to lead humankind into the future.


Harrison H. Schmitt is a former United States Senator from New Mexico as well as a geologist and former Apollo 17 Astronaut.  He currently is an aerospace and private enterprise consultant and a member of the new Committee of Correspondence


Former Senator Schmitt Proposes Dismantling of NASA and Creation of a New, Deep Space Exploration Agency

May 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: National Space Policy 

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced to a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American to the Moon and returning him safely to Earth by the end of that decade. President Kennedy’s confidence that this Cold War goal could be accomplished rested on the post-Sputnik decision by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to form the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and, in January 1960, to direct NASA to begin the development of what became the Saturn V rocket. This collection of essays on Space Policy and the Constitution [1] commemorates President Kennedy’s decisive challenge 50 years ago to a generation of young Americans and the remarkable success of those young Americans in meeting that challenge.

How notions of leadership have changed since Eisenhower and Kennedy! Immense difficulties now have been imposed on the Nation and NASA by the budgetary actions and inactions of the Bush and Obama Administrations between 2004 and 2012. Space policy gains relevance today comparable to 50 years ago as the dangers created by the absence of a coherent national space policy have been exacerbated by subsequent adverse events. Foremost among these events have been the Obama Administration’s and the Congress’s spending and debt spree, the continued aggressive rise of China, and, with the exception of operations of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station, the loss of focus and leadership within NASA headquarters.

The bi-partisan, patriotic foundations of NASA underpinned the remarkable Cold War and scientific success of the Apollo Program in meeting the goal of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth”. Those foundations gradually disappeared during the 1970s as geopolitical perspectives withered and NASA aged. For Presidents and the media, NASA’s activities became an occasional tragedy or budgetary distraction rather than the window to the future envisioned by Eisenhower, Kennedy and the Apollo generation. For Congress, rather than being viewed as a national necessity, NASA became a source of politically acceptable “pork barrel spending” in states and districts with NASA Centers, large contractors, or concentrations of sub-contractors. Neither taxpayers nor the Nation benefit significantly from this current, self-centered rationale for a space program.

Is there a path forward for United States’ space policy? When a new President takes office in 2013, he or she should propose to Congress that we start space policy and its administration from scratch. A new agency, the National Space Exploration Administration (NSEA), should be charged with specifically enabling America’s and its partners’ exploration of deep space, inherently stimulating education, technology, and national focus. The existing component parts of NASA should be spread among other agencies with the only exception being activities related to U.S. obligations to its partners in the International Space Station (ISS).

Changes in the Space Act of 1958, as amended, to accommodate this major reinvigoration of the implementation of space and aeronautical policy should be straightforward. Spin-off and reformulation of technically oriented agencies have precedents in both the original creation of NASA in 1958 by combining the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and the creation of the United States Air Force in 1947 from the Army Air Forces.

The easiest change to make would be to move NASA Space Science activities, including space-based astronomical observatories, into the National Science Foundation (NSF). At the NSF, those activities can compete for support and funding with other science programs that are in the national interest to pursue. Spacecraft launch services can be procured from commercial, other government agencies, or international sources through case-by-case arrangements. With this transfer, the NSF would assume responsibility for the space science activities of the Goddard Space Flight Center and for the contract with Caltech to run the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Also, in a similarly logical and straightforward way, NASA’s climate and other earth science research could become part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA could make cooperative arrangements with the NSF for use of the facilities and capabilities of the Goddard Space Flight Center related to development and operation of weather and other remote sensing satellites.

Next, NASA aeronautical research and technology activities should be placed in a re-creation of NASA’s highly successful precursor, the NACA. Within this new-old agency, the Langley Research Center, Glenn Research Center, and Dryden Flight Research Center could be reconstituted as pure aeronautical research and technology laboratories as they were originally. The sadly, now largely redundant Ames Research Center should be auctioned to the highest domestic bidder as its land and facilities have significant value to nearby commercial enterprises. These actions would force, once again, consideration of aeronautical research and technology development as a critical but independent national objective of great economic and strategic importance.

NASA itself would be downsized to accommodate these changes. It should sunset as an agency once the useful life of the International Space Station (ISS) has been reached. De-orbiting of the ISS will be necessary within the next 10 to 15 years due to escalating maintenance overhead, diminished research value, sustaining cost escalation, and potential Russian blackmail through escalating costs for U.S. access to space after retirement of the Space Shuttles. NASA itself should sunset two years after de-orbiting, leaving time to properly transfer responsibility for its archival scientific databases to the NSF, its engineering archives to the new exploration agency, and its remaining space artifacts to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Finally, with the recognition that a second Cold War exists, this time with China and its surrogates, the President and Congress elected in 2012 should create a new National Space Exploration Administration (NSEA). NSEA would be charged solely with the human exploration of deep space and the re-establishment and maintenance of American dominance as a space-faring nation. The new Agency’s responsibilities should include robotic exploration necessary to support its primary mission. As did the Apollo Program, NSEA should include lunar and planetary science and resource identification as a major component of its human space exploration and development initiatives.

To organize and manage the start-up of NSEA, the experienced, successful, and enthusiastic engineering program and project managers should be recruited from industry, academia, and military and civilian government agencies. NSEA must be given full authority to retire or rehire former NASA employees as it sees fit and to access relevant exploration databases and archives. An almost totally new workforce must be hired and NSEA must have the authority to maintain an average employee age of less than 30. (NASA’s current workforce has an average age over 47.) Only with the imagination, motivation, stamina, and courage of young engineers, scientists, and managers can NSEA be successful in meeting its Cold War II national security goals. Within this workforce, NSEA should maintain a strong, internal engineering design capability independent of that capability in its stable of contractors.

NSEA would assume responsibility for facilities and infrastructure at the Johnson Space Center (spacecraft, training, communications, and flight operations), Marshall Space Flight Center (launch vehicles), Stennis Space Center (rocket engine test), and Kennedy Space Center (launch operations). Through those Centers, NSEA would continue to support NASA’s operational obligations related to the International Space Station. NSEA should have the authority, however, to reduce as well as enhance the capital assets of those Centers as necessary to meet its overall mission.

Enabling legislation for NSEA should include a provision that no new space exploration project can be re-authorized unless its annual appropriations have included a minimum 30% funding reserve for the years up to the project’s critical design review and through the time necessary to complete engineering and operational responses to that review. Nothing causes delays or raises costs of space projects more than having reserves that are inadequate to meet the demands of the inevitable unknown unknowns inherent in complex technical endeavors.

The simple charter of the National Space Exploration Administration should be as follows:

Provide the People of the United States of America, as national security and economic interests demand, with the necessary infrastructure, entrepreneurial partnerships, and human and robotic operational capability to settle the Moon, utilize lunar resources, and explore and settle Mars and other deep space destinations, and, if necessary, divert significant Earth-impacting objects.

Is this drastic new course for national space policy and its implementation the best course to repair what is so clearly broken? Do we have a choice with Cold War II upon us, with American STEM education a shambles, with domestic engineering development and manufacturing disappearing, and with an ever-growing demand for American controlled, economically viable, clean energy?

Harrison H. Schmitt is a former United States Senator from New Mexico as well as a geologist and former Apollo Astronaut.  He currently is an aerospace and private enterprise consultant and a member of the new Committee of Correspondence.

Note Cited in Text

1. Essays Nos. 7, 18, 20, 25, and 35 were revised and collected together into a special booklet entitled Space Policy and the Constitution with a Foreword written by Michael D. Griffin, NASA Administrator (2005-2009). The present essay formed the Preface to that booklet, which is available from the “Downloads” page of the AUS website.—Ed.


Former Senator Schmitt Advocates A National Energy Plan As Constitutionally Mandated

February 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Off-Earth Resources 

The constitutional mandate for a rational, scientific, and economically sound national energy plan lies in its close modern relationship to the constitutionally mandated “common Defence”.  Dependence on foreign sources of oil, and therefore transportation fuels, limits both near and long-term national security options. That dependence also creates an economic burden to our economy that restricts the liberty of Americans and their 9th Amendment guarantee of the pursuit of happiness.

Dependence on imported oil removes the defensive and foreign policy leverage needed to prevent attacks by terrorist states.  Imports subsidize the financial supporters of terrorism. Dependence has the further effect of giving the United States no influence over the price it pays for oil.  If the price of oil came under the direct economic influence of the United States, for example, Iran would have great difficulty affording the development of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

Dependence on oil and gasoline imports also gives China further means to intimidate our national leaders into acquiescence to its continuing ambition for international dominance.  China’s rapidly growing economy has a major influence on world energy supply and cost, competing directly with our needs.  Cold War II has begun; however, it is being fought on an economic and energy front as well as on a military deterrence front.  On this point, China’s rapidly developing space capabilities and its expressed interest in lunar helium-3 energy resources cannot be ignored.

Many varied elements are necessary to a long-range plan that would ultimately provide for energy independence and a more stable economy.  A scientifically and economically based, long-range plan also would provide far more benefit to the preservation of the environment and natural resources than possible today.

In the near term, Congress must take back the control of regulatory laws it has transferred to the Executive Branch, particularly those rules that prevent attaining energy independence from commercially viable natural energy resources.  Closely tied to independence are the facilities necessary to refine domestic crude oil into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.  The One House Legislative Veto described previously in these essays [link] constitutes a constitutional means for the Congress to control rule making delegated to the Executive.

President Obama’s continuing statements and restrictive actions notwithstanding, the only commercially viable natural resource that currently offers an unsubsidized path to independence from imported oil is domestically accessible crude oil along with the domestic refineries necessary to create fuel oil, diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel.  Natural gas offers some potential to reduce imports; however, the use of tax credits or direct subsidies of the initial capital costs for fleet or aircraft conversions to natural gas, or even personal automobile conversions, should come with payback provisions as those  conversions realize long-term economies.

To fully understand the potential and challenges of gaining near-term energy independence, industry, national, and state policy makers require a more complete understanding of the potential resources of oil and natural gas available beneath public lands and in off-shore areas.  A rapid, cooperative industry-federal-state scientific assessment of those potential resources would provide the knowledge necessary to evaluate the private investments and national enabling policies necessary to achieve and maintain independence.

Research and technology development aimed at future commercially viable alternative portable fuels should focus on the following: coal liquids, ethanol from nonfood crops, and algal bio-diesel, and water-derived hydrogen from catalytic systems energized by the sun or by waste heat from needed power plants. Significant historical and current technological progress has been made with regard to these fuels; however, commercial viability must include production costs low enough to enable the creation of convenient and cost-effective fuel delivery infrastructures.  Battery-based systems do not constitute a viable, broadly applicable alternative portable drive system due to their very low, coal- or uranium-to-power-train total efficiency, as well as their charging inconvenience.

Major solar energy systems such a large-scale wind and solar electric plants are far from being competitive without major subsidies from taxpayers or ratepayers.  For these systems to have any hope of being practical contributors to the national energy mix, a significant technology development effort must be undertaken by industry. Due to the great competitive gulf between these systems and standard coal and nuclear systems, it is questionable if the federal government should be funding a new round of technology development.  Many more critical energy initiatives require urgent attention.

Other essays in this series [links] have made the scientific case that climate change largely results from natural phenomenon and that attempts to reduce the very small human induced component to such change will have little practical effect.  At the same time, misguided political efforts to control climate change unconstitutionally restrict the liberties of Americans.  On the other hand, even if not persuaded by the scientific evidence against human-caused climate change, the replacement of end-of-life coal-fired power plants with advanced nuclear plants constitutes the best of all economic and environmental worlds.  The first step in such replacement should be the reform and streamlining of regulations governing nuclear plant construction.  If that is done, and the time necessary to construct plants is halved, investment capital will follow the demand without any need for loan guarantees or subsidies.

At the same time as America should be moving toward nuclear power as the source of most of its electricity, the effort to find underground repositories for the burial of spent nuclear fuel rods should be abandoned. Monitored, retrievable, above ground storage makes much more sense in the long-term.  Future reprocessing of these rods will provide additional fuel for electrical power generation as well as numerous useful isotopes for medical and industrial applications.  The actual useless waste, that is, the much reduced, left over high-level radioisotopes, ultimately can be changed (transmuted) into stable isotopes or easily confined short-lived radioisotopes.

Reprocessing of nuclear fuel rods and transmutation of the remaining high-level radioactive waste will require significant new investment by industry if allowed by federal authorities.  Although defense-related spent fuel rods are currently reprocessed, and France reprocesses their civil reactor fuels, commercial reprocessing development in the United States was terminated by the Carter Administration.  It should be restarted, immediately. Transmutation of actual waste from reprocessing can be done most efficiently by exposure of radioisotopes to energetic protons produced by helium-3 fusion systems.  Until reprocessing and transmutation technologies have been developed to a commercial level of readiness, above ground, spent fuel rod storage is the most practical solution to this contentious issue.

In the longer term, the development of modular nuclear breeder systems, high temperature gas reactors, thorium-fueled reactors, and lunar helium-3 fusion should be part of the mix of systems examined by robust research and technology development programs. Government, industry, and academia should be mobilized into joint technology development efforts not unlike those that made American aeronautics the envy of the world in the 20th Century. Unfortunately, inherent scientific, engineering, capital costs, and waste disposal issues mean that the billions spent on pursuing tritium-fueled fusion will not succeed in developing a commercially viable fusion power system.

A central underlying issue in the implementation of a defense-oriented national energy plan continues to be the lack of both objectivity and quality in the American educational system [links].  From beginning to end, most young people now miss both the essential foundations of history, constitutional government, and science and mathematics necessary to participate in the implementation of such a plan. No energy plan, much less our national defense can be successful unless the States begin to fully live up to their 10th Amendment responsibilities in education.  As during the height of World War II and the Cold War, the Federal Government only should be a non-controlling partner in the funding of those elements of science and engineering education essential to the “common Defence” but no more than this if liberty is to be preserved.

Previous Congresses and Administrations have not upheld their constitutional mandate to “provide for the common Defence” relative to energy and instead have used politically motivated legislation and regulation to prevent the private sector from providing for the nation’s critical energy needs.  This neglect has led to a national security crisis through progressively increased dependence on foreign sources of oil as well as other strategic resources.  The Constitution requires that there be a concerted and immediate federal focus on energy independence.  This is not what the Founders would have desired, but past neglect means no choice remains other than capitulation to the economic and military intimidation of the enemies of liberty.


Harrison H. Schmitt is a former United States Senator from New Mexico as well as a geologist and Apollo 17 Astronaut.  He currently is an aerospace and private enterprise consultant and a member of the new Committee of Correspondence.


Former Senator Schmitt Cites Strong Constitutional Justification for Selected Federally Funded Research

The Founders understood the importance of science and technology in the long-term future of the United States. Without science and engineering advancement, in the face of advancement by others, America could not compete with our ideological and economic challengers. Imagine our world if, before America, Nazi Germany had atomic weapons or the former Soviet Union had nuclear submarines or reached the Moon.

The Founders demonstrated their understanding of the critical role of individual creativity in American progress by specifically delegating constitutional power to Congress “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8). The economic and personal incentives for Americans to invent and publish have grown from this remarkable clairvoyance.

The Founders did not intend for the “Science and useful Arts” Clause alone to give broad constitutional justification for federal funding of scientific and technology research. Clearly, the Founders only meant for this Clause to apply to the research activities by individuals. Federal protection of intellectual property by copyright and patent law flows from this constitutional power.

Scientific and technological advancement funded by the Federal Government has a strong constitutional foundation in the Preamble’s mandated promotion of the “common Defence and general Welfare.” Specifically, the Congress has enumerated powers in this regard in Article I, Section 8. Implementation of those powers logically requires federal involvement in science and engineering research, as follows:

* Clause 5 – fixing of “the Standard of Weights and Measures.”
* Clause 6 – detection and prevention “of counterfeiting.”
* Clause 7 – establishment and implied improvement of “post Roads” and, by logical extension, more modern means of delivering communications.
* Clause 8 – evaluation of “Discoveries” in “Science and the useful Arts” for the purpose of “securing…exclusive rights” for “Inventors.”
* Clause 12 and 13 – “support” of “Armies” and maintenance of “a Navy” and, by logical extension, future forces necessary to the “common Defence.”
* Clause 15 and 16 – support of the “Militia” and their use to “repel Invasions.”

Clause 18 of Section 8 further gives Congress the power “to make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” It should be noted by the added underlines that this Clause limits Congress to only the execution of the Government’s constitutionally enumerated powers.

Relative particularly to national security, clear Article I constitutional support therefore exists for federal sponsorship, directly or indirectly, of science and technology research that applies to the following:

* Weapons of all kinds that can effectively support the armed forces.
* Natural, agricultural, and other resources required for national security.
* Military logistics technologies and transportation systems, including national highways, waterways, rail systems, and aeronautics and space systems.
* Nationally critical energy systems and the basic sciences that underlie such systems.
* Potential future military technologies such as space and missile defense, external threat sensing, cyber attack, and so forth.
* National border protection and enforcement.
* Medical research applicable to the maintenance of a healthy population from which soldiers are drawn as required and to the treatment of wounded soldiers and veterans.
* Climate and weather as they impact the above.

Under Article II, the Executive also has enumerated powers that require support from science and engineering research but which require budgetary concurrence by the Congress and, of course, congressional approval of necessary levels of supporting taxation and debt. Article II, Section 2, Presidential powers include:

* Clause 1 – acting as “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy…and of the Militia…when called into the actual Service of the United States…”
* Clause 2 – negotiating and making “Treaties” on which the Congress must provide “advice and consent.”

Also under Clause 2 of Article II, Section 2, Presidents have the power to appoint “…by and with Advice and Consent of the Senate…all other Officers of the United States…whose Appointments…shall be established by Law…” Any appointments with significant executive powers not submitted to the Senate for conformation, such as President Obama’s “czars” are clearly unconstitutional.

Although the Congress, under Article I, Section 8, Clause 18, can legislate both responsibilities and constraints on the execution of the President’s Article II power of Appointments, Article I limits Congress to its own enumerated powers. Constraining Congress even further, the Founders did not provide in Clause 18 for Congress to go beyond enumerated powers in defining the specific responsibilities of Presidential Appointments. Science and technology research necessary to support the authorized functions of Departments and Agencies, therefore, must adhere to the limits of the enumerated powers of Congress; that is, it would be unconstitutional for Presidential appointees to be given budgetary authority to undertake activities that Article I does not state as being within the power of Congress to authorize or fund.

How, then, can “Appointments” in the Executive be given clear authority to carry out their constitutional responsibilities? First of all, through the Oath of Office, the President gains significant latitude in directing some such officers to assist him to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” This constitutional discretion expands further in the Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, designation of the President as “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into actual Service of the United States…” Departments such as Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice, as well as the Intelligence Agencies, can be managed directly by the President, but only within the bounds of the Bill of Rights and other Constitutional Amendments. In this, the President only needs Congressional concurrence on overall budgets.

Budget concurrence creates critical balance of power limitations on the President as Commander in Chief but cannot, constitutionally, be used to prevent Presidents or the Congress from providing for the “common Defence” in any significant way. Both entities share this mandated function. For not carrying out that mandate, Presidents can be impeached and Members of Congress can be removed in their next election cycle.

Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, further expands Presidential Executive power by stating “he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective offices…” This language indicates that the Founders expected Presidents to exercise significant control over the activities of all Executive Departments and, by extension, future Agencies that might be created by law.

The fact that the Constitution does not define the functions of any Executive Department, outside those implicit in enumerated powers, indicates an intent that this definition would be left to the interplay between the Congress and the Office of the President. The need for the Executive to deal with national defense and matters of state, treasury, commerce, law enforcement, and postal service derives from Articles I and II. The Founders, on the other hand, intentionally created what they hoped would be a balancing tension between the Executive and the Congress through Presidential executive power being moderated by Congress’ power over the purse and specifically limited legislative powers.

The President, with funding concurrence by the Congress, therefore has significant discretion in assigning science and technology research duties to federal Departments and Agencies so long as Congress can constitutionally fund their implementation. Development of weapons and intelligence gathering systems and systems that support the armed forces overall are obvious examples of the exercise of this constitutional discretion. Persuasive constitutional arguments also can be made for federal support of science and technology research in medicine, agriculture, energy, and natural resources based on the specific applicability to national security of research projects in these arenas. An increasingly healthy population and the obvious need for indigenous supplies of food, energy, and raw materials provide adequate justification for most of the research activities of related federal Departments. These arguments find strong support in history and in consideration of possible future national security threats and the need for improved and more diverse means of meeting those threats.

The Constitution, on the other hand, does not empower the Congress to provide funding for, nor can the President direct, research that does not have specific applicability to powers enumerated in Articles I or II. This fact calls into question the constitutionality of research on societal, economic, cultural, demographic, and educational issues that have no direct relationship to national security and that could be carried out through privately funded institutions, associations, cooperative State initiatives, and businesses rather than by government. The 10th Amendment provides for decisions on the conduct of such soft research to the people or the States.

Constitutional rationale for “big” science and technology projects that have costs, time commitments, and national security implications and lie beyond those addressable by the private sector alone lies in their tangible contributions to the implementation of the Article I powers of the Congress and the Article II powers of the President. Since the nation’s founding, federally supported or managed big science and engineering efforts have contributed to national defense or to treaty enforcement. Notably, such projects include canals, locks, dams, and levees beginning in the early 1800s; agricultural research through Land Grant academic institutions created in 1860s and 1890s; the Transcontinental Railroad in the late 1860s; construction of the Panama Canal at the turn of the 20th Century; aeronautical research that began early in the 1910s; continuously upgraded defense and reconnaissance systems since the 1940s; the Manhattan Project of the 1940s; development of a Nuclear Navy and related power systems, communication satellites, and the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s; and the Apollo Moon-landing Program of the 1960s.

Even though strong constitutional support exists for significant federal funding of science and engineering research, such support becomes fuzzy relative to big and small, pure science projects exploring the edges of our understanding of nature. Although difficult to quantify, their constitutional rationale lies primarily in the stimulation of educational initiatives that train the scientists and engineers that ultimately serve more direct constitutional functions, particularly national security.

Unfortunately, the once bright future for both federally and privately funded science and technology research has dimmed in the United States. Mismanagement of federal projects is endemic. A federal attack on private academic and research institutions has commenced through unconstitutional regulatory interference. Further, unless the next Congress and the next President contain and reduce the national debt and the cost and reach of both entitlements and unnecessary regulations, remaining taxpayers will have little money left to fund future research no matter how important and constitutional.


Harrison H. Schmitt is a former United States Senator from New Mexico as well as a geologist and Apollo Astronaut. He currently is an aerospace and private enterprise consultant and a member of the new Committee of Correspondence.


WordPress SEO fine-tune by Meta SEO Pack from Poradnik Webmastera

Twitter links powered by Tweet This v1.8.2, a WordPress plugin for Twitter.