Published: March 29, 2018

Authors: Dora Holland, Jack O. Burns

Abstract: We document how the narrative and the policies of space exploration in the U.S. have changed over the past 50 years. We first examine the history of the U.S. space exploration program and also assess three current conditions of space exploration including: (1) the increasing role of the private sector, (2) the influence of global politics, and (3) the focus on a human mission to Mars. We identify five rhetorical themes: competition, prestige, collaboration, leadership, and a new paradigm. These themes are then used to analyze the content of forty documents from eight presidential administrations. The historical narrative and content analysis together suggest that space exploration has developed from a discourse about a bipolar world composed of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. into a complicated field that encompass many new players. We make three observations: (1) there is a disconnect between stated U.S. policy goals and the implementation of those goals, (2) the U.S. communicates mixed messages regarding its intent to be both the dominant leader in space exploration and also a committed participant in international collaborations, and (3) the U.S. cannot remain a true pioneer in space exploration if it does not embrace the realities of globalization and the changing dynamics within space exploration. We conclude with three suggestions: (1) the U.S. government and NASA should critically examine space exploration priorities and commit to implementing a program that will further realistic policy and goals, (2) the U.S. should re-examine its intention to play a dominant leadership role in space exploration and consider emphasizing a commitment toward active participation in international collaboration in space, and (3) the U.S. should fully embrace the new paradigm of space exploration by lowering barriers that hinder competitiveness. Read full paper from arXiv or the Space Policy Journal.