KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who parlayed a 1986 guest flight aboard the space shuttle into a leading congressional space policy role, has a bone to pick with the National Research Council (NRC) report advocating a steppingstone path to human missions to Mars.

The 286-page report, which was released June 3, urged the United States to consider adding China to the global space partnership that will be essential for a human expedition to Mars — the only goal that justifies the risk to life and tremendous cost of manned spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit, the panel said.

“Given the rapid development of China’s capabilities in space, it is in the best interests of the United States to be open to its inclusion in future international partnerships,” the report said.

Ideally, a human mission to Mars would include China, Nelson told SpaceNews, but, he said, “I just don’t trust them at this point. … The Chinese would like to steal everything we have.”

“We’ll see. Things can change. I mean whoever thought we’d have the cooperation with the former Soviet Union — despite czarist Putin,” Nelson added, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and ongoing tensions stemming from Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

Overall, Nelson said he found the NRC report “positive” and “realistic.”

“If you’re going to Mars you’ve got to provide the money. That’s a question that the American people will have to answer. In the interim, we have the building blocks to get ready for a Mars mission in the 2030s,” he said.

Nelson spoke to SpaceNews on June 9 after touring a mock-up of Boeing’s CST-100 capsule at a former shuttle processing hangar at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spacecraft is one of three vehicles vying for a final round of development funds under NASA’s commercial crew program.


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