What government should do in space

The Space Studies Board of the National Academies recently posted a call for public comment on the rationale and goals of the US space program, as part of a study they are developing on the topic. The open comment period is now closed, but according to Karen Shea at the NSS blog, Neil deGrasse Tyson at their recent meeting strongly urged that "NASA should get out of Low Earth Orbit". What should they do instead?

Below are the comments I submitted to the SSB on the topic, identifying 3 specific goals for US government-sponsored space activities, some of which certainly would continue to include low earth orbit activities for some period of time into the future.

To some degree “civil space program” makes no more sense than “civil land program”, “civil air program”, or “civil ocean program”, and there is no overarching rationale for its long-term existence as something distinct and separate from the nation’s general economic and other activities. Much of “civil space” - communications and remote-sensing activities in the main - is already largely integrated with the general economy and rarely considered by the general public as something markedly separate. That said, there will always be some sort of boundary between “near space” and “deep space” where normal economic activity fades off and only rare and extraordinary government-sponsored activity makes any sense. The goal of the commercial space sector should of course be to make money in a normal economic fashion within that “near space” arena. The goals of government civil space agencies should be (1) to clearly identify “deep space” projects worthy of funding and to pursue them, (2) to identify and fund technology areas that will help expand the boundaries of “near space”, and help broaden national and international normal economic activities within the near space arena, and (3) to, at a reasonable level, identify and fund worthy “infrastructure” projects within the economic “near space” arena that help to facilitate economic and other activities, whether in space or on Earth. It might make most sense to split these 3 distinct goals among three separate departments or agencies.