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Planetary Society Urges Delay in Orbital Space Plane Decision

Press Release From: Planetary Society
Posted: Monday, November 3, 2003

image The Planetary Society today endorsed the call by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Ranking Democrat Ralph Hall (D-TX) to defer the decision to start development of the Orbital Space Plane until a NASA goal for human space exploration is defined. 

The Planetary Society has repeatedly urged that human exploration beyond Earth orbit requires a goal, and that the destination for humans should be the surface of Mars. 

In recent testimony to the House Science Committee, Planetary Society President, Wesley T Huntress, Jr. said,  "Mars…is the logical destination for humans in the next decades of our new century.  Mars is the most Earth-like of all the other planets in our solar system. It may have had life in its early history, it might possibly harbor microbial life below its surface today, and one day in the distant future it may become a new home for humankind."  

Society Board Chairman Bruce Murray joined Huntress in testifying to that same Committee about the need and value of a human exploration goal to guide decisions about future space transportation.   Both said that human space flight should only be undertaken for goals worthy of the high risk and costs associated with the endeavor.

Murray said, "The political leadership of this country must also insist on NASA developing and presenting a range of realistic alternatives to its current Shuttle/ Space Station plans that can enable a credible national commitment to a paced Mars human flight program."

Reps. Boehlert and Hall declared, "[NASA] does not explain how the Orbital Space Plane fits into an overall vision for the human space flight program, but rather acknowledges that such a vision is still being developed."

The Congressmen oppose approving the program until its goals are specified.   The Planetary Society concurs. 

NASA's requirements for the Orbital Space Plane do not mention human space exploration beyond Earth orbit, citing only transportation to and from the space station (and then only in the context of rescue in an emergency).  The Orbital Space Plane is envisioned as part of a space transportation system still dominated by the shuttle. 

This last April, the Society conducted a joint workshop with the American Astronautical Society and the Association of Space Explorers-USA, which led to a statement calling for the rapid phase-out of the shuttle, and development of a new space transportation plan dominated by the requirements for human exploration beyond Earth orbit.   (http://planetary.org/workshop)

"The public wants an adventurous space program, a Mission From Planet Earth to new exciting destinations in the solar system and beyond," said Huntress.   "America has the right stuff, but today's human space flight program isn't giving the public what it wants."

THE PLANETARY SOCIETY:

Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary Society in 1980 to advance the exploration of the solar system and to continue the search for extraterrestrial life.  With members in over 125 countries, the Society is the largest space interest group in the world.  For more information, contact Susan Lendroth at (626) 793-5100, ext. 237, or by e-mail at susan.lendroth@planetary.org (http://planetary.org).

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