The Subcommittee on Space today held a hearing titled “Charting a Course: Expert Perspectives on NASA’s Human Exploration Proposals.” Witnesses shared their viewpoints on NASA’s human space exploration plans – including a human mission to Mars – and the challenge of keeping programs on track through changing presidential administrations.

Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin (R-Texas): “Today we find ourselves at an intersection. Do we, as a nation, retreat from the cosmos, or do we take that next first step into the unknown? There appears to be consensus that the horizon goal of America’s human exploration program is to land on the surface of Mars. But how will we get there? What are the intermediate stepping stones on that pathway to Mars? How do we avoid costly and avoidable detours? How do we ensure a sustainable program rather than a “one-off” stunt? And how do we ensure the next administration does not wipe the slate clean, erasing all the hard work of the last five years.

“NASA’s human exploration program has been through a tumultuous seven years. With a new President to be chosen by the end of this year, we must ensure that there is a constancy of purpose in our planning and a surefooted roadmap in place for the future.”

A full video of Babin’s statement is available here.

In particular, the hearing examined the Obama administration’s plan for its Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) in light of budget instability at NASA that threatens human exploration programs.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas): “The administration should develop solid plans for future exploration missions that foster support from the science and engineering communities. However, the administration continues to push plans for an uninspiring and unjustified Asteroid Retrieval Mission. The administration continues to force this mission on NASA without any connection to a larger exploration roadmap and absent support from the scientific community or NASA’s own advisory committees.

“Instead, the administration should follow the advice of the NASA Advisory Council and more fully develop its human exploration plans, including a human flyby mission to orbit Mars. There are many options, but without a roadmap to guide the agency, NASA will continue to be subject to indirection and proposed budget cuts by the White House. For its part, Congress will continue to ensure that space exploration will receive the funding needed to stay on schedule and on budget.”

A full video of Smith’s statement is available here.

Witnesses today testified to the shortcomings of the Obama administration’s Asteroid Retrieval Mission plan.

Dr. Paul Spidus: “The ARM offers no unique benefits beyond providing a place for Orion to visit. In terms of scientific and operational importance, it is barren of real accomplishment and irrelevant to future human deep space missions. And for learning how to use space resources, it can only perform rudimentary reconnaissance of the type already accomplished or planned by a variety of robotic missions, past (e.g., NEAR), present (e.g., Dawn) and future (e.g., OSIRIS-REx).”

The following witness testified today:
Mr. Tom Young, Former Director, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA; Former President and Chief Operating Officer, Martin Marietta Corporation

Dr. John C. Sommerer, Chair, Technical Panel, Pathways to Exploration Report, National Academy of Sciences

Dr. Paul Spudis, Senior Scientist, Lunar and Planetary Institute

For more information about today’s hearing, including witness testimony and the hearing webcast, please visit the Committee’s website.