Introduction : Goals and Methods ‑ Brookings Report

  1. In November 1959 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration contracted with the Brookings Institution to undertake... the design of a comprehensive and long-term program of research and study regarding the social, economic, political, legal, and international implications of the use of space for peaceful and scientific purposes.
  2. The long-term program of research set out in the report (and briefly outlined in this Summary) includes:
    1. Sufficient description and evaluation of speculations on the implications of space activities to provide a basis for judging which implications may have sufficient impact on human affairs to merit research.
    2. Specification of criteria for selection of high priority research.
    3. Specification, when feasible of high priority research areas for initiating a long-range research program; specification of other research areas which will extend the utility of the initial research; and specification of research which may become central under later circumstances.
    4. Suggestions as to methods, persons, and organizations that might assist the conduct of research. (The suggestions are made chiefly through footnote citations of pertinent publications and projects and are therefore not included in this Summary, which carries no footnotes.)
    5. Suggestions on the organization and function of a NASA research capability to implement the program (Chapter 2).
  3. Space activities require great investments of money, men, material, and creative effort and thereby compete with the needs of other areas of human endeavor. They contribute to rapid rates of technological change and thereby give rise to social and personal readjustment problems. Thus it is most desirable that the problems and opportunities they may imply for society be understood. Since the potentialities of space activities are wide ranging, so, too, must be a research program on their implications: examined herein are the problems and opportunities that may be introduced by hardware (such as a weather satellite forecasting system); events (such as the adventures of astronauts in space); and ideas (such as those embodied in discussions of the degree to which national prestige may be dependent on success in space accomplishments), certain implications may be directly related to aspects of a specific social environment; in such cases, these aspects will be examined.
  4. Research on the implications of space activities requires a reasonably clear picture of the associated larger social context. Given the complex problems facing various components of world society and the technological developments, that are believed possible in fields other than space, it appears impractical to speculate beyond the next twenty years, and perhaps even beyond the next ten. Even within this time span, however, the consequences of space activities can be foreseen only in part, since the effect of any given development in space may be vitiated by unexpected but contingent scientific, technological, or a society developments. This report, therefore, does not attempt to predict what will happen to society as a result of space activities. Rather, it poses questions about what might happen and specifies contingent factors which may affect the likelihood of one implication being realized rather than another,
  5. Certain potential products or consequences of space activities imply such a high degree of change in world conditions that it would be unprofitable within the purview of this report to propose research on them. Examples include a controlled thermonuclear fusion rocket power source and face-to-face meetings with extraterrestrials.
  6. The impact of innovation is no respecter of differences in academic disciplines. To stress the interdisciplinary nature of research on the implications of space activities and to permit a coherent exploration of specific products, events, and ideas the report is organized into chapters that (except for Chapter 2) each represent a major area of problems and opportunities. Within these major areas., all pertinent aspects of the problems are discussed, whether economic, political, or social, or combinations thereof. Certain chapters necessarily overlap, since some of them cover general aspects of problems which are specific to the subjects of other chapters.
  7. Time, resources, and especially the lack of a single formulation of social science theory, broad-ranging enough to encompass the variety of problems involved, imposed arbitrary limitations on the amount of research undertaken to back the speculation underlying the report. Thus, the report is not exhaustive in its research recommendations, but the descriptions of the problem areas (developed through interviews, conferences, and reading) are intended to provide the reader with a basis for proposing specific research projects in connection with the study areas recommended here. It is important to note that, as a consequence of this approach, the first specific research project to be undertaken with regard to many of the problems here discussed should be an assessment of the literature to determine what existing knowledge, if any, can be applied directly and what further study needs to be done.
  8. Suggesting a comprehensive research program makes it necessary to examine the range of implications needing study, irrespective of who might conduct the research. Not all -the research suggested should or could be sponsored directly by NASA; some proposals are more properly within the interests of other groups.
  9. "Research" is broadly used herein to refer to a variety of approaches, including "think-pieces," sophisticated logical and/or mathematical evaluations and analyses, and empirical studies in the field. Studies would range from broad programmatic research to detailed inquiries. Most of the projects are phrased in terms of space activities, but many of the suggested investigators could as well be stimulated by or applied to a number of other major on-going or contemplated scientific developments. Examination of the implications of space activities also provides a new standpoint from which to observe human behavior before, during., and after social change resulting from innovation. This, the proposed research program offers extraordinary opportunities for fundamental social science research as well as applied.
  10. The recommended high priority research areas (listed at the end of each Summary section) are intended to provide NASA with a "mix" of projects to be an initial basis for a long-range research program. The priority criteria emphasize:
    1. That the results of the research would have important applications to the social consequences of specific space activities.
    2. That the study is urgent in order to identify and resolve operating and policy problems associated with imminent or on-going developments.
    3. That the study is non-deferrable in that if the data and methods are to be available when needed it is necessary to begin acquiring them now;
    4. That the study would significantly forward the development of a program of peaceful and scientific uses of space.
    5. That the study would, through the development of methodology, facts, or theory, contribute exceptionally to understanding or foreseeing the social implications of space activities.
    Which projects NASA may choose to implement, even among those which might be thought of as urgent, will depend on factors not within the purview of this report, including budget, availability of research capabilities, important events which have transpired, and the extent to which previous research has paid off.
  11. Research areas are included in the report which are not now considered of high priority, but which are likely to become so as social developments and space activities evolve and as high priority research is completed.
  12. No assumption has been made as to whether that or not specific studies are already underway. If an area recommended for study is presently being competently researched, the priorities here assigned to the area would alter.
  13. The magnitude and direction of a long-range research program on the social effects of space activities will depend on the organization NASA establishes to select, monitor, and conduct the studies. One of the most pressing and continuing research challenges for this capability will be to:
    • develop effective methods to detect incipient implications of space activities and to insure that their consequences are understood.
  14. Each section of this Summary corresponds to a chapter of the full report and sets forth the main points of the chapter and the recommended high priority research for the problem area. In the body of the report, the presentation of potential implications involves discussion of and suggested research on all the issues that seem to be pertinent to a problem area including some that do not warrant research at the present stage of the problem area's development, and some that it would be inefficient to study until other recommended research is completed. This supportive discussion constitutes the bulk of the report and in a summary can only be suggested. Its intent, however, is to make clear (1) the significance of the research recommended, (2) the variety of the projects implicit in the research areas, (3) the order in which related projects could be carried out, and (4) the opportunities for approaching various problems in broad or narrow contexts of research and application. Therefore, although for some readers this Summary chapter may provide sufficient information ­- since these four clarifications may not be of central interest to them -- itis assumed that the potential researcher will find it essential to read the body of the report.