Should NASA Overhaul Its Vision?

Is the moon really “so yesterday?” An article in the Jan. 18 issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology reported that a group of influential people in the space community will meet in early February to discuss alternatives to NASA’s current Vision for Space Exploration of returning to the moon to prepare for future missions to Mars. But a subsequent letter to the editor in AWST written by Planetary Society President Lou Friedman and Scott Hubbard of Stanford University tried to put the brakes on any notion that the group has already come to a consensus that NASA’s VSE should change direction and destination.

In the letter, Friedman and Hubbard state that the article created “the misperception that the workshop we are organizing at Stanford University has already decided upon a new path for the human and robotic exploration of space. We wish to make it clear that the purpose of the workshop is to examine critically the Vision for Space Exploration in order to prepare for future space policy considerations in a new Administration and new Congress.”

The Aviation Week article reported that the purpose of the February meeting is “to offer the next U.S. president an alternative to President Bush’s ‘vision for space exploration’–one that would delete a lunar base and move instead toward manned missions to asteroids along with a renewed emphasis on Earth environmental spacecraft.”

But Friedman and Hubbard’s letter said, “This point of view is undoubtedly the personal opinion of some participants – but such an opinion is neither a premise nor a presumed outcome of the workshop.” Instead, they said, the workshop will address a many issues of space exploration and the workshop has no predetermined conclusions.

“We have deliberately included a wide range of participants with disparate views, including those who would maintain the status quo. We personally do not know what the conclusions of the workshop will be – or even if there will be a definitive consensus,” said Friedman and Hubbard.

Examining the current Vision is surely a good idea. A Business 101 rule is that once a plan is put into action, you should always stay on top of changing conditions and adjust your plan accordingly, constantly updating and improving. Should NASA consider missions to asteroids instead of the moon? Will going to asteroids get us to Mars more quickly, or is the moon a good, safe place to get our space legs back before moving on?

Hopefully the group meeting at Stanford University in February, as well as the upcoming new political administration in the US, will examine the VSE with open minds, considering both human and robotic missions, and without political agendas.

Another Business 101 tenet is that communication is vital to success. It’s good to see that space exploration is something people are talking about.”

Original News Source: Planetary Society Press Release

15 Replies to “Should NASA Overhaul Its Vision?”

  1. Alright asteroid bases! Jupiter can fling them into the sun yay. But seriously whats wrong with mars? And why is nasa’s budget paying. i want the TPF back. I doubt people will be living on mars in my lifetime. This whole thing could be handled by private companies nasa should stick to science.

  2. NASA is what, like, the Henry Ford or MicroSoft of space exploration? Maybe they should break their routine of things, and split up into some sub-divisions where there could be collaborative efforts had that would include people from all over the planet focusing their special talents on things NASA would normally slam the hammer down on.

    Change and difference of views isn’t necessarily a bad thing NASA.

  3. If we don’t go to the moon we’re passing up the chance to building telescopes in a place (the lunar poles) that is unrivaled by anywhere on Earth or the inner solar system for that matter. Given that we’re on the cusp of discovering new Earth-like planets in other solar systems, that would be a crying shame.

  4. At some point, NASA will have to change its plans. Space Elevators have gone from fascinating theory to almost practical for Earth. If you follow such things, you know that a space elevator is currently the best solution for reaching the surface of Mars–or the moon.

    Yes, I know the moon doesn’t rotate all that fast–but that limits locations for space elevators to surface locations near the L1 and L2 Lagrange points. The moon’s libration also means that any such elevator would have to compensate. An interesting idea would be to, rather than anchor the bottom of an elevator to either let it pull away and recontact the surface, to move across the surface, or both.

    Do I expect an Earth elevator to be built in time to affect NASA’s plans? Very good question. I think that construction of such an elevator will start within 10 years, but it may be twenty years or more before it can be used to transfer large payloads (and humans) from surface to orbit. A NASA plan that used orbital tethers, or building a lunar elevator as a prototype of sorts for an earth elevator might be best.

  5. Robert Eachus above is right on the money. I think the key thing NASA needs to do is to start thinking how things should be done, rather than using old tools. Rockets are old tools and will never be efficient for moving mass off of this planet into space. I would add that solar sails should also get increased funding since they are probably the most technology feasible method of moving payloads quickly out into the solar system. Waiting 10 or more years for probes to just reach a destination is trying my patience.

  6. Our next goal should be the sun’s focus point, somewhere around 550-600 AU. We need to develop solar-sail technology to travel to this region, because rocket is too slow and it takes very long time to reach this place.

  7. I’m with you on the Space Elevator, but I don’t think NASA will get involved with it unless and until someone proves they can manufacture the requisite carbon-nanofiber ribbon.

    We’re getting there, and there’s no shortage of private companies pushing forward, but I doubt in the current financial and funding climate NASA can be seen to be investing tens of millions in completely unproven technology.

  8. Is this team of scientists shooting themselves in the US foot?. After all, NASA and the USA aren’t the only ones currently ‘planning’ to go to the Moon.
    China, Japan, India, Russia, Europe and the UK all have plans someday to set up some kind of a base of their own (eventually), or, get involved with a base from other countries. If the US are off trying to land on an asteroid or trying to land on the planet Mars (a much more difficult task in its own right than landing on an asteroid or the Moon), the US may loose out in terms of several areas of research, developments and new technologies that would someday be used for planetary exploration (not to mention US jobs for engineers, scientists, astronomers, planetary geologists etc.,).
    Yes, they would undoubtedly have a stake in someway in each of these projects and these countries efforts, but would they hold the leading card anymore when it comes to exploration of the Moon? No!
    A lot can be learned from going to the Moon – not only in the new science, new research arenas etc,., – but also the actual, physical approach requirements that astronauts and their equipment, like landers, mining equipment, will use.

  9. the moon a good starting point,but the most important thing to do is get teacher and educatorsinvolved,in space exploration,we have to inspire our kids and we are falling short of that goal,I know alot of schools in southeast wisconsin have no astonomy or planetary science what so ever in their classroom,these are the things we need to change,we have to make the public aware or it or pushed to the wayside,the public has to want ot be involved most don’t even care about our own planet,we have to inspire,excite and educate for these programs to go forward.

  10. The only way to keep the public interested in space is to return to the moon before anything. A) It will be far safer and faster, B) We need the experience back, and it’s tried and true, thus making the short attention span public less of a hinderance in keeping the exploration budget intact.
    Keeping in mind, if we had’nt abandoned the Moon 40 years ago, we would probably already be on MArs!!!!!

  11. NASA shouldn’t be making decisions beyond how to transport a payload into space. A consortium of universities will no doubt do a far better job of putting together a space exploration agenda for the United States. Just a reminder that NASA and FEMA are from the same womb.

  12. We need to develop new propulsion systems for our rockets for both takeoff and traveling through space. The current estimates for traveling to Mars is 2 1/2 years. Then we have the return trip. For the past 35 years nothing has been done to increase our speed for space travel. Faster speeds will in the long run make space exploration less expensive. Why is it taking 17 years to get a new moon mission when the first one was accomplished in less than 10 years? I suggest a goal of one million mph within ten years.

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