DALLAS — While NASA’s road back to the Moon and onward to Mars is technologically challenging, some of the space activists who gathered here May 25-28 for the 26th annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC) are increasingly worried that the effort ultimately will fall short due to a lack of adequate funding.
As kick-started by U.S. President George Bush in January 2004, NASA’s vision of extending the human touch beyond low Earth orbit is being subjected to a lack of support from both the White House and Congress, said Rep.
Nick Lampson (D-Texas), who
represents the area around NASA’s Johnson Space Center
“The budgets are not there. We’re seeing a business as usual approach that is not going to deliver the robust and broad-based exploration program laid out in the vision for space exploration,” Lampson said here May 25.
Adding his voice of concern regarding the overall budgetary health of NASA’s expansive exploration agenda was former shuttle astronaut, Michael Coats, now the 10th director of the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston
president’s fiscal year 2008 budget request is absolutely vital to NASA after the cut we took with the continuing resolution this year,” Coats said
Coats stressed the need for all to recognize the strategic importance of the civil space program to the United States. Moreover, for the United States to maintain a leadership role, he said, far more emphasis must be placed on the need for math, science and engineering education.
“The space program is important, not only for our national security, but our economy … and the two of those are tied together,” Coats emphasized.
As NASA blueprints its new desires to return to the Moon, the United States is at a
point similar to the one it faced in the 1960s – the epic times of the Apollo program that led to six expeditions to the surface of that nearby world.
“There is no doubt that humans will return to the Moon. The only question is which humans … which country will send them … what values will they bring? We are the generation to help determine if the national will to lead still exists,
Coats said international participation must be a key element of any plan to advance the Vision for Space Exploration
. “We have defined a minimalist exploration architecture centered on the Orion [the post-shuttle piloted craft], Ares crew and heavy-lift launch vehicles as first critical elements with the hope that international and commercial partners will want to augment these capabilities with their own,” Coats said.
The Moon is rife with danger and
hazards, Coats warned.
“The potential risks to human health on long-duration missions beyond Earth orbit represent the greatest challenge to human exploration of deep space,” Coats said.
While work on board the international space station is helping to study the impact on the human body of long-duration space travel, there’s still miles to go in beating back potential medical issues, he added.
For one, intense levels of radiation spewed out from the Sun “is one of the real challenges to carrying out long-duration space missions,” Coats said. There are multifaceted faceted solutions needed and already being worked upon, he added.
Another challenge of departing the Earth for longer treks in space is recycling.
To maintain space crews on missions two or three years away from Earth will be demanding, Coats said. “We will have to be self-sustaining for the first time in human history.”