January 9, 2009
It would appear that we are in the midst of yet another attempt to define the goals and objectives of our national space program. This time, the National Academy of Sciences is conducting a study on the Rationale and Goals of the U. S. Civil Space Program. After completion, this study will no doubt be consigned to the large pile of previous studies gathering dust on the bookshelves of space students everywhere.
The study group is asking for public comment and input, in 600 words or less. This is what I have submitted:
The U.S. space program must serve national scientific, economic and security interests. Science has been well served by the space program and space exploration has revolutionized understanding of the universe and our place in it. Commercial opportunities in space have followed paths blazed by government, including launch services and operations in LEO to GEO Earth orbit. The next goal should be to expand the extent and capability of human “reach” beyond this zone first into cislunar and then into interplanetary space.
The ultimate object in space is to go anywhere, at any time, with whatever capabilities needed to do any task or objective. This ability is still far away; current spaceflight opportunities are mass and energy limited and will always be so if everything needed in space must be lifted from the deep gravity well of Earth’s surface. To create greater capability, the resources of space must be harnessed to build, extend and operate a transportation system in space. The initial goal is to create a permanent infrastructure that can routinely access the entire volume of cislunar space (where all current space assets reside) with machines and people. As capabilities grow with time, such a system would be extended to interplanetary space.
To this end, the goal for next couple of decades should be to learn the skills and acquire the technologies needed to use the material and energy resources of space and to access, inhabit and work productively on the surfaces of extraterrestrial bodies. The Moon is the first target for research and use. It is both a school and a laboratory to learn how to get to, live on and explore other worlds. This task requires extended (ultimately, permanent) presence on the Moon with both machines and people.
Reconnaissance to explore, map and characterize work and habitat sites on the Moon can be done with robots and teleoperated machines. Demonstration experiments should be conducted to explore resource extraction techniques and processes, handling of materials, and create expanded capabilities and to emplace assets prior to human arrival. People will extend these capabilities and use the new infrastructure to understand the trade-offs, paybacks, difficulties and choke points of various resource extraction options. Humans will learn how to emplace, operate, maintain and expand planetary surface habitats.
A permanent human presence on the Moon creates new and exciting scientific opportunities. The Moon is a complex, miniature planetary body and preserves both its own history and – uniquely – Earth’s early history. The Moon records the output and history of our Sun and high-energy galactic particles for the last 4 billion years. Its surface environment enables the construction and emplacement of unique observational systems that can map in unprecedented detail the Earth and its environment, the local space neighborhood and the universe beyond.
To become a true spacefaring nation, the “umbilical cord” of space logistics must be cut to create a permanent, flexible and extensible transportation and habitation infrastructure beyond low Earth orbit. It is a difficult task, appropriate for government technical and financial support. It will open up the frontier of space for many and varied purposes, the fundamental objective of American space policy.
Please feel free to go and add your own two cents at the web site above. If repetition really is the mother of learning, perhaps we can repeat ourselves enough so that eventually, the right thing will be done.
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