National Security Directive on Space Exploration Policy (2004)

08.19.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

A newly disclosed National Security Presidential Directive on space exploration (pdf) illustrates the broad topical scope of such directives, as well as their practical limitations.

The Bush Administration directive, issued in 2004, ambitiously called for “a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the solar system and beyond” and even a “human presence across the solar system.”

The document has not been formally released to the public, and multiple requests for its disclosure have been rebuffed by the National Security Council. It was obtained and released by Wikileaks.org, a website that publishes confidential documents.

See “U.S. Space Exploration Policy,” National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 31, January 14, 2004.

The National Security Presidential Directive largely replicates the contents of the Bush Administration’s Vision for Space Exploration, which was announced on the same day the Directive was signed. But it has some remarkable features of its own.

For one thing, it has nothing at all to do with national security as the term is commonly understood. Although space exploration was also addressed in national security directives in previous administrations, such as the Clinton Administration’s PDD-49, in such cases it was considered along with intelligence and national security space. NSPD-31 by contrast is purely a statement of science and technology policy with no national security component. This raises the possibility that other Bush Directives, yet undisclosed, also address topics outside of the usual national security framework.

Aside from that, the Bush Directive serves as a reminder that just because a President orders an agency to perform a certain action, that doesn’t guarantee compliance. Thus, in 2004 the President directed NASA to undertake a series of robotic missions to the Moon “starting no later than 2008.” But that is not going to happen. Instead, NASA may launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter no earlier than February 2009.

Some other Bush Administration National Security Presidential Directives are available here.