From: Office of Science and Technology Policy
Posted: Monday, February 1, 2010
In 2009, I had the honor of leading a committee comprised of individuals with extensive experience in space activities in an assessment of NASA's human spaceflight program and plans. We found that the current Constellation program was unsustainable and was highly unlikely to get humans to the International Space Station before its planned de-orbit or back to the Moon until roughly 20 years in the future. The root cause has been an incompatibility of funding resources and work scope in the human spaceflight program, a situation that has persisted for a number of years.
Our committee was specifically not tasked to make recommendations but rather to consider alternative paths going forward. In an effort to maintain an unfettered perspective we held no discussions on an overall preferred option. The plan released with the President's FY 2011 budget does appear to respond to the primary concerns highlighted in our committee's report. By extending the ISS to 2020, NASA and our many international partners will be able to capitalize on the full capability of this unique orbiting laboratory. By making a significant investment in creating commercial capabilities to take humans and cargo to low- Earth-orbit, overseen from a safety-standpoint by NASA, will drive competition, lower costs, open new markets and make space more accessible. Similarly, by allocating the technology resources highlighted in our report as being necessary, it will be possible to lay the foundation for travel beyond low-Earth-orbit, including destinations such as the asteroids, the Lagrangian points, Mars' moons and Mars
itself, as well as revisits to our own Moon. NASA will be able to focus on this true frontier and to regain its position as a cutting-edge research and development organization.
While many of us who believe strongly in human spaceflight might have hoped that still further funding would have been possible, this is obviously a demanding period from a budgetary standpoint. Importantly, the President's proposed program seems to match means to ends, and should therefore be executable.
Our committee had the occasion to meet many of the highly dedicated leaders in NASA and industry who are pursuing the human spaceflight program and we were very impressed with their technical capabilities and their commitment to the success of America's space program. While human spaceflight for the next few years will focus on near-Earth activities, I remain fully confident that given adequate, sustained funds these individuals can successfully create a strong next-generation human space exploration program.
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