How NSS Can Implement a National Space Strategy

by Lt. Col. Timothy K. Roberts, USAF

An appropriate space strategy for the U.S. on the eve of the 21st Century is to explore and settle the solar system. We have the tools, the knowledge, and many people with the will. What we lack is a strategy. We now have that strategy, so we progress to the second step, developing a plan to execute it.

The conquest of the solar system is beyond the capacity of any single nation, company or alliance. It is truly a human undertaking in the grandest sense. Nonetheless, there are important things that individuals, companies and nations can do that are critical enablers to the conquest. In particular, a group such as the National Space Society (NSS), a voluntary group of private citizens with no great fiscal resources, can play the role of strategist, gadfly, and midwife to the conquest.

Following is a proposed method uniquely suited to a group such as the NSS. The method requires little financial investment but a great deal of personal time investment by people well-suited to the task — committed space activists who are willing to work for their dream.

Committee for the Settlement of the Solar System

A key piece of the new National Space Strategy is the continual need to keep public and corporate eyes on the ultimate goal and prioritize investment efforts. There are no groups in the world today that perform these tasks. There are many governmental, professional and private groups that address a portion of the problem (e.g., the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, professional; the Aeronautics and Astronautics Coordinating Board, governmental between NASA and DOD; and the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, private under the guidance of the Department of Transportation).

All these groups address part of the investment problem, from different angles. All represent a view of a strategy, albeit not very long-term. None of them are well-suited to looking at the entire issue of settling the solar system, because of their built-in biases.

What is needed is a group that has interest in and oversight of the entire spectrum of human efforts and activities in space. In short, a group such as NSS.

Certainly, the entire NSS shouldn’t be expected to perform this investigative and advocacy function. There are myriad limitations to trying to mobilize all 25,000 members all the time to try to cover a vast array of highly technical subjects. There is, however, a time-honored method that can turn our limitations into advantages and make NSS the voice to be listened to on the conquest: form a committee. I propose the Committee for the Settlement of the Solar System.

Committee because the job is too big for either one person or, paradoxically, the entire membership of the NSS. The job of investigation and advocacy is best done by a small, focused group responsive to the will of NSS membership. Further, properly constituted, a committee can gain virtually automatic credibility based on the known expertise and accomplishments of its members. Who would ignore the advice of Col. Buzz Aldrin on the exploration of space?

Settlement because that is the ultimate objective — expanding the sphere of human activity into space and making it permanent. Life off Earth will be just as permanent, just as rewarding, just as challenging as life on the Blue Marble. We go to make the planets, the moons, and the space in between our homes and workplaces. We go to live.

The Solar System because humans go to places to live and work. Space is not a place: Mars, Venus, the Moon and Titan are. One can’t live in space (unless you’re on a place called a space station). One lives and works — and dies — for a place close to their heart — a home.

The Inner Workings

The charter of the Committee is deceptively simple: Identify and advocate actions and investments that lead to the goal of human settlement of the Solar System.

This charter is ideally suited to a group such as the NSS because it draws on what might be a crucial disadvantage — NSS’s inability to invest in one or more actions. Instead, NSS can be the honest broker, the voice of the public, the Cyclopean eye that sees all that needs to be done to settle the solar system precisely because it has no specific investment at risk, no dog in the fight. NSS can use its inability to do to become singularly powerful at guiding. Identification and advocacy are things that can be done with minimal monetary investment (although, as we shall see, there is a need for significant human investment).

Further, because of the diversity of interests of NSS members and chapters, there is likely an individual or chapter that would be willing to investigate quite a few areas that can advance the cause of the conquest. There are already NSS chapters dedicated to nanotechnology applications, space nursing, and development of new governmental systems — all likely to be critical, in one way or another, to the conquest.

Accomplishing this goal requires a number of things

A group of respected people — scientists, engineers, lawyers, politicians, artists — whose opinions on these actions and investments will be heeded by those entities capable of making the investments and committing resources.

A larger supporting structure that aids the basic group in assembling information, preparing presentations and testimony, and in general doing the unheralded dogwork inherent in the group’s work.

A way to get the opinions, information, and ideas from the general public to this group in a usable fashion.

Detailed Look

A group of respected people. This is the visible, public portion of the committee. It might consist of 20–30 people, well-respected in their fields, who are willing to put their reputations on the line in support of the goal of the conquest. There can be no overlap in abilities due to the wide array of actions and investments that need to be made. The committee needs to be able to make cogent, relevant, respected statements on a wide variety of subjects ranging from space law to the impact of artistic expression on long-duration mission crew morale. Further, to both widen the breadth of expertise and continually refresh the spirit of the Committee, each member should serve a set term, a few years at most.

Thus, the obligation of guiding the conquest need not fall heavily on a few sets of shoulders but rather be guided itself by as broad and public an interest as possible.

Finally, serving on the Committee should be voluntary, with no possibility of remuneration. Voluntarism in the service of the conquest should be the guiding tenet of committee members. Being on the committee will eventually be a honor; it must earn that honor by honorable behavior.

A larger supporting structure. A group of 30 people can only do so much, even if they all worked full time, which the committee won’t. Therefore, there needs to be a supporting group that does the dogwork of investigation and advocacy — research, preparation, arranging presentations and testimony.

In large, NSS membership could fill this role. In detail, however, there needs to be some structure to ensure that the needed jobs get done. In short, there needs to be a secretariat. This secretariat needs to be able to form working groups to support the particular investigations and advocacies the committee is pursuing and it needs a coordination function to keep the whole engine running. A possible structure is to have a coordinator with a small, dedicated staff guiding the efforts of several working groups — which might be chapters, individual NSS members or just interested citizens — toward the Committee’s current objectives.

Due to the nature of the job, the coordinator and their staff ought to be paid NSS employees. The working groups, however, should be volunteers.

A way to get opinions, information, and ideas from the general public to this group in a usable fashion. This is the most crucial portion of this entire proposal. Unless common citizens of all backgrounds have an opportunity to get their information and ideas heard and objectively judged, the opening of the solar system will be an elitist action serving the needs of the few — or at least will be perceived so. Wide public involvement and access builds a wide constituency for spending public, private, and commercial funds to do the real work of settling the solar system.

Enabling public input has been successfully done in many projects; the challenge will be to keep the process going indefinitely and credibly. But it is crucial that we do so. It is always possible that the crackpot down the street may well have the one idea that makes settlement of Mars easy.

That crackpot must always believe his idea will be heard. But there is a key facet to this function: acquiring and presenting the information in a usable fashion. The Committee will be bombarded by a multitude of bright ideas, most of which won’t pan out for one reason or another. And the Committee will need to be selective in what ideas and investments it pursues. Therefore, the secretariat and working groups will need to objectively screen public inputs.

Ideally, every submission gets considered and every submission gets an answer. In practice, this will be very hard to do, especially with a corps of volunteers doing the work. But it needs to happen.


To be effective, the Committee needs to present its opinions to a wide variety of public, corporate and private groups and individuals. There are at least three venues and forms of output that the committee will use:

  1. Testimony. A key Committee product will be testimony to various governmental forums. Congress, the UN, states and provinces will all want and need to hear what the Committee has to say about what they should be doing with public monies. The Committee will offer both advocacy and expert advice on a wide range of topics. At the outset, the Committee will be one voice among many but, as time passes and the stature of the Committee grows, its voice will be sought out as representative of those who will fund and inhabit the new frontier.
  2. Public presentations. Almost purely advocacy, this is the Committee’s chance to directly impact public opinion. Either Committee members themselves or secretariat or working group members will make the opportunity to get the Committee’s messages in the public eye and ear. This is the sort of outreach that NASA is criticized for not doing. It can be a powerful tool in the battle for public opinion.
  3. Publications. The record copy of the Committee’s views. This includes documents and studies that look at particular issues, position papers, and articles and media presentations for general consumption. Working group members have an opportunity to do most of the writing or preparation here.


Here, then, is a tool that NSS can use to further its stated goal of promoting a space-faring civilization. The Committee for the Settlement of the Solar System can amplify NSS’s voice and provide the overarching guidance humanity will need to settle space. It is a project NSS is ideally suited to undertake. And it gives muscle to our proclamation:

We’re going out! Lead, follow, or get out of the way!

Lt. Col. Roberts has long been involved in space development on the military side. He wrote this white paper as a response to his personal concern that neither the country nor NSS has a workable strategy for space development. Please address comments to him or the Utah Space Association. Reprinted with permission in the Aurora, Utah Space Association newsletter.