PC Mag | Lawmakers Push NASA to Return to the Moon
Lawmakers Push NASA to Return to the Moon
By Damon Poeter | PC Mag | April 10, 2013
A battle brewing inside NASA over long-term mission goals has spilled over to Capitol Hill with a bipartisan group of legislators on Wednesday introducing a bill that would re-set the space agency's focus on returning astronauts to the Moon before attempting manned missions to Mars or a near-Earth asteroid.
"The Moon is our nearest celestial body, taking only a matter of days to reach. In order to explore deeper into space—to Mars and beyond—a Moon presence offers us the ability to develop and test technologies to cope with the realities of operating on an extraterrestrial surface," Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.), who worked on the Apollo Program at the Kennedy Space Center in his youth, said in a statement.
Other signatories of the RE-asserting American Leadership in Space Act, or REAL Space Act, are Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), John Culberson (R-Texas), Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Pete Olson (R-Texas), Ted Poe (R-Texas), Steve Stockman (R-Texas), and Frank Wolf (R-Va.).
The REAL Space Act would direct "NASA to develop a plan for returning to the Moon and establishing a human presence there" while setting "a clear course for NASA toward human space flight while keeping within current budgetary constraints," according to the bill's proponents.
In recent years, NASA and the Obama administration have made it clear that they would prefer to focus on ambitious missions to send humans to Mars and a near-Earth asteroid rather than attempt to return to the Moon, last visited by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972. But at a high-profile joint meeting of the Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) in Washington, dissent from some in the space community over that agenda came into focus.
UCLA chancellor emeritus and professor Al Carnesale, who leads a group formulating NASA's strategic direction, suggested that the space agency delay a proposed crewed mission to visit an asteroid by 2025 and instead consider returning to the Moon.
"There's a great deal of enthusiasm, almost everywhere, for the Moon. I think there might be, if no one has to swallow their pride and swallow their words, and you can change the asteroid mission a little bit ... it might be possible to move towards something that might be more of a consensus," Carnesale was quoted as saying by Space Politics.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden, also present at the meeting, attempted to quash that notion.
"I don't know how to say it any more plainly. NASA does not have a human lunar mission in its portfolio and we are not planning for one," Bolden said, arguing that changing course at this point would be disruptive to the country's human spaceflight agenda.
Nearly three years ago, President Barack Obama announced the country's goal of sending astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid during a speech at the Kennedy Space Center. Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, present at the Kennedy Space Center speech, "has been [to the Moon] ... There's a lot more of space to explore, and a lot more to learn when we do," Obama said at the time.
Rep. Wolf, chairman of the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee, stressed what he characterized as a lack of backing within the space community for the long-range manned missions proposed by the White House.
"Last year, the National Research Council committee charged with reviewing NASA's strategic direction found that there was no support within NASA or from our international partners for the administration's proposed asteroid mission. However, there is broad support for NASA to lead a return to the Moon. So the U.S. can either lead that effort, or another country will step up and lead that effort in our absence—which would be very unfortunate," Rep. Wolf said.
At last week's meeting, Bolden did say NASA was prepared to assist in any attempts by other space agencies around the world to send humans to the Moon. However, it remains unclear whether any such missions are being seriously considered—for example, China hasissued some signals that it plans to conduct a manned lunar mission while India appears to have backed off on a similar project.
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