NASA Welcomes Report's Findings, Smith Says It Highlights Issues
In its recently-released report "Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration", The National Research Council says that the long-term future of the manned space program is unclear beyond participation in the International Space Station.
"Pronouncements by multiple presidents of bold new ventures by Americans to the Moon, to Mars, and to an asteroid in its native orbit, have not been matched by the same commitment that accompanied President Kennedy s now fabled 1961 speech-namely, the substantial increase in NASA funding needed to make it happen," the report states in its executive summary. "Are we still committed to advancing human spaceflight? What should a long-term goal be, and what does the United States need to do to achieve it?"
The 286-page report makes the case for advancing this endeavor, drawing on the history of human spaceflight to justify future programs in human space exploration. This report promotes the exploration of Mars as the horizon goal for the program. With this goal in mind, the report considers funding levels necessary to maintain a robust tempo of execution, current research and exploration projects and the time/resources needed to continue them, and international cooperation that could contribute to the achievement of spaceflight to Mars. According to Pathways to Exploration, it is not possible to meet the goal of human spaceflight to Mars without a sustained commitment to funding at a higher level than the space program is currently receiving.
In a statement, NASA said it welcomes the release of the report. "After a preliminary review, we are pleased to find the NRC’s assessment and identification of compelling themes for human exploration are consistent with the bipartisan plan agreed to by Congress and the Administration in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and that we have been implementing ever since.
“There is a consensus that our horizon goal should be a human mission to Mars and the stepping stone and pathways thrust of the NRC report complements NASA’s ongoing approach. The key elements of that approach include the facilitation of commercial access to low-Earth orbit to sustain fundamental human health research and technology demonstrations aboard the International Space Station (ISS); the development and evolution of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft to enable human exploration missions in cis-lunar and deep space, including to an asteroid; and the development of game-changing technologies for tomorrow’s missions, all leading the way on a path to Mars
“NASA has made significant progress on many key elements that will be needed to reach Mars, and we continue on this path in collaboration with industry and other nations. We intend to thoroughly review the report and all of its recommendations.”
The report was requested by Congress as part of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the House Science Committee, said the report highlights the issues with NASA's exploration plans.
“The Obama administration has failed to present a coherent plan to develop the capabilities and technologies required to support a human mission to Mars," Smith said in a statement. "The NRC report reiterates that NASA must identify the stepping stone missions that will be necessary to demonstrate these capabilities. The bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2014, passed out of Committee last month, explicitly calls on NASA to develop an exploration roadmap. But Congress is still waiting to hear how NASA will select these destinations.
“The NRC report also calls into question the Obama administration’s continued focus on the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), highlighting ‘an underlying concern that ARM would divert U.S. resources and attention’ from other potential missions. This is a mission without a realistic budget, without a destination and without a certain launch date. The Committee has heard a number of concerns about ARM, as well as promising alternatives such as a flyby mission to Mars and Venus in 2021. Congress should provide NASA with guidance and funding priorities that reflect our current budget reality while allowing them to develop an inspirational human spaceflight mission.”