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NASA's Space Initiative: Moon's Potential is Uncertain, Experts Testify

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Thursday, April 1, 2004

image WASHINGTON, D.C. - A panel of scientific experts testified today to the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics that more data are needed to determine if the moon has enough water and minerals to support significant, ongoing human activity there.

The Subcommittee hearing was prompted by the President's proposal to have humans return to the Moon by 2020.  The President's proposal does not speculate on what long-term activities might occur on the Moon, but ideas have included using it as a launching site for flights to distant planets and as a site for commercial activity and space telescopes. 

Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA )began the hearing stating, "Thirty years ago, the end of the Apollo era signaled the beginning of a much more narrow, scaled-back agenda for our human space flight program.  Fortunately, President Bush made the decision to recommit this nation to its heritage of human exploration beyond Earth's orbit.  The question now is not whether we will return to the Moon, but what things might be done there in the name of science and economic development."  Chairman Rohrabacher continued, "Utilizing key lunar minerals and ores is critical if the Moon's potential as a scientific and industrial laboratory in Earth's neighborhood is to be realized."  

Subcommittee Ranking Minority Member Nick Lampson (D-TX) said, "This hearing helped us understand just what the moon has to offer us as we continue exploring the solar system. Before we go forward with the National Space Initiative to send humans to Mars we must decide if we are going to have a limited presence on the moon or if we will we establish a long-term presence.  I support sending humans back to the moon, but for how long?"

Dr. Paul Spudis, Senior Staff Scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and Visiting Scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, offered the most optimistic assessment of the Moon's potential value.  "The Moon is both a scientific bonanza and an economic treasure trove, easily reachable with existing systems and infrastructure that can revolutionize our national strategic and economic posture in space and at home... (It) offers abundant material and energy resources, the feedstock of an industrial space infrastructure," he said.

But Spudis acknowledged that more data were needed to determine the amount and distribution of water and other resources on the Moon.  That point was echoed by the other witnesses.

Other witnesses testifying today were:  Dr. Daniel F. Lester, Research Scientist at the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas at Austin; Dr. Donald B. Campbell, Professor of Astronomy, and Associate Director of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center at Cornell University; Dr. John S. Lewis, Professor of Planetary Sciences and Co-Director of the Space Engineering  Research Center at the University of Arizona; and Dr. Timothy Swindle, Professor of Geosciences and Planetary Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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