The Committee to advise the US government and its agencies was organized by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). While the group was comprised in part by a number of high profile scientists, it also included humanities and social science scholars. Although there were a few political scientists, a sociologist, and an economist, Siddiqi adds “I was the only historian on the committee.” This is obviously a very great honor, and it recognizes how important Siddiqi’s research has been in shaping the current understanding of the human drive into the cosmos.
We basically worked on the issue for a couple of years and had many sessions at various locales, including Irvine & Stanford, California, Washington, DC, and Woods Hole in Massachusetts. It was actually a lot of work but also a lot of fun! I was lucky enough to get an exclusive view of the American space program. We visited a lot of cool places (our official “site visits”). I remember the one to the Johnson Space Center in Houston very vividly where officials showed us around the whole facility. We also talked to space program leaders all over the world which was a bit surreal (for example, asking tough questions to the head of the Russian Space Agency).
When the report was finally published earlier last summer it was covered very widely in the media. Just a few examples of the press coverage can be found at
What the report essentially says is that in terms of moving people Earth orbit (say to the Moon or Mars), there are no compelling practical rationales for doing so. There are, however, substantive but intangible “aspirational” rationales for sending people out beyond Earth orbit, i.e., things that are more difficult to measure. These might include “prestige” or “exploration” and things like that. We also found that putting people on the Moon or Mars is going to be very expensive and therefore, we need a good reason to commit to such a project. If people involved in the space program believe that it’s worth it to do these things, then we should commit money over the long term, not just for 4 years until the next President comes along.