One of the first panels Thursday at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2008 conference was titled “VSE: The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?” The VSE, of course, referred to the Vision for Space Exploration, the national space exploration policy introduced in January 2004. Except that, earlier this year, the policy was quietly renamed the US Space Exploration Policy (although references to the former name are still on the NASA exploration web site). Or does the policy need a new name altogether?
“If we’re going to talk about sustainability, in my opinion we need to use a different vocabulary,” said Paul Carliner, a former Senate staffer. “I think we need to stop calling it the Vision for Space Exploration. A ‘vision’ is a word that connotes something of a plan for the future. This is not a plan for the future. This is a program that is ongoing, is current.” He noted the policy’s endorsement by Congress in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 and the spending of billions of dollars on Ares, Orion, and other exploration-related programs. “That’s not a vision, that’s a program.”
What, then, should the exploration effort be called? “The current name is Constellation,” he said, referring to the term usually reserved for the transportation components of the plan. “We all need to start using that name of the program when we discuss what we’re talking about.” Carliner said that in the 1960s, the push to send a man to the Moon was not the “Vision to Send a Man to the Moon” but became known by names like Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, “names that to this day still have an iconographic status with the American public and the world.” Calling the current effort the Vision could be damaging to its long-term prospects, he said. “If we refer to it as that, nothing more than a plan for the future, then it becomes very easy not to sustain it.”
Another panelist, former White House staffer Brett Alexander, said that Constellation may not be the right name. “Calling it Constellation does kind of leave out that space science part,” he said. He noted that the original policy had the title “Renewed Spirit of Discovery”, a term that never gained much currency with NASA or the public. “The ‘Vision for Space Exploration’ was a name made up by NASA and [then-administrator] Sean O’Keefe at the time. It was apt, but it has outlived its usefulness.”