SETI bioastro: FW: [META] The Planetary Society's position on the NASA program,

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From: Larry Klaes (
Date: Wed May 23 2001 - 06:25:02 PDT

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From: []
Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2001 12:02 AM
Subject: [META] The Planetary Society's position on the NASA program,

presented to Congress on May 15, 2001.

The Honorable John McCain
508 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Ernest F. Hollings
508 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510

May 15, 2001

Dear Senator/Rep.:

We know that Congress believes that it is important to hear from
representatives of the public concerning matters of public interest. In
that spirit we present this letter to you, and ask that it be included
at the next opportunity with testimony before your Committee, in keeping
with our efforts to provide information to Congress about public support
for space exploration.

It has been six years since The Planetary Society testified before this
Committee. During those years, the Society's membership included more
than 250,000 people who are interested in, and inspired by, the
exploration of other worlds and the search for life elsewhere. We are,
by far, the largest organized constituency in the space community.

The principle message of our constituency is that space exploration is
popular - and your support for NASA programs should build on that
popularity and public interest. There are four specific issues that we
ask you to address in this year's budget deliberations.

First, we urge the restoration of program elements in NASA's human
spaceflight enterprise to study concepts for future flight beyond low
Earth orbit and to begin addressing the required technologies. The Space
Station should not be the next step to nowhere as it is now. The purpose
of the Space Station is to prepare humans for destinations beyond earth

Second, human spaceflight should lead eventually to Mars. We do not
advocate a start now on any such human mission, but we urge you to
insure that the robotic planetary program is designed to lead to that
end. The Planetary Society believes this requires the establishment of
robotic outposts on Mars that will support science goals in early phases
and human habitation later when it is feasible.

We ask you to restore and support the Pluto-Kuiper Express mission that
was removed from the Space Science budget. Otherwise, this nation will
miss a unique opportunity to visit the last unexplored planet that will
not reoccur for some time to come.

Fourth, we believe in the importance of international cooperation,
public support, and interest in the space program and ask that you
support international cooperation in the NASA program. Space exploration
has become an inherently international enterprise, and this type of
cooperation is key to carrying out complex exploratory and scientific
programs in space.

Public Interest

In many conversations we have had with legislators and decision-makers
over the years, almost all of them are positive about the value and
popularity of space exploration. It may generate less public expression
than bread-and-butter, financial, and quality of life issues, but as has
been wisely said, "man does not live by bread alone." The public
understands this. The support is proven by the way the public follows
NASA missions that venture to other worlds; by the large numbers of
visitors at the National Air and Space Museum, Kennedy and Johnson Space
Centers; by the spectacular attention paid to scientific discoveries by
Hubble, Mars Global Surveyor, the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous
mission; and by the adventures of both humans, like John Glenn, and
robots, like Mars Pathfinder.

Human Spaceflight

The basis of the popularity of space is exploration. It is the raison
d'etre for NASA. We are concerned that exploration is threatened in the
current NASA budget and cite the following examples of this in both the
human and robotic program.
The space station is running into cost overruns and NASA has no
resiliency to deal effectively with the problem without severely cutting
the program. This lack of budget resiliency is a result of the large
loss of purchasing power exceeding 30% in the last eight fiscal years -
a budget reduction uniquely large compared to the rest of the Federal
Government. So the crew on the space station will be limited, the
duration of stay will be limited, the TransHab is cancelled, and no
preparation or study of human space flight out of Earth orbit will be
undertaken. In short, we have a human spaceflight program leading to
nowhere. If the space station leads nowhere with astronauts neither
conducting nor preparing for exploration, then it will turn off the
public as happened a decade ago when we had a shuttle program that also
was leading nowhere.
The Planetary Society has consistently supported a space station worth
the cost - we hope Congress and the Administration will provide adequate
support to NASA so that the International Space Station remains so.

Robotic spaceflight - Mars Outposts

Robotic scientific exploration of space has proven its value. Congress,
the Clinton Administration, and now the Bush Administration have played
a constructive role in providing increasing support for Mars
exploration. It is no wonder - Mars is the only extraterrestrial world
we know that holds clues to past life and the promise of future
habitation. The public is enthralled with the search for
extraterrestrial life and the attempts to understand humankind's place
in the cosmos. Much of this endeavor centers on Mars. We ask you to
support the increase in funding for Mars in the FY2002 budget request.
As good as the Mars program is, there is something lacking. It is not
funding. As with the space station, it is direction. It is a subject
about which we can only whisper; it is too dangerous to say out loud in
Washington. It is called humans. The irony is clear to us, but seems to
escape many policy makers. While Mars has received increased funds and
commitment for robotic missions, based on its link to possible microbial
life and the sense of Mars as an ultimate human destination, the link to
human exploration is not permitted. The public makes this link and most
assume we are on our way there. But NASA is forced to cut even small
study programs about the future of human exploration. We do not call for
a premature and ill-founded political initiative for a human Mars
mission. But there is no reason not to acknowledge this as a goal of the
robotic program and begin to develop robotic Mars outposts that can one
day serve as the infrastructure for human exploration when the time is
right. Our position on Mars Outposts is submitted as an appendix to this


Mars is not the only planet in the Solar System, nor the only place for
humankind to gain an understanding of our place in the cosmos. This
country has explored the solar system from Mercury to Neptune, and has
visited scores of solar system moons, asteroids and comets. But not
Pluto. Pluto is the only unvisited planet in the solar system and also
the most conspicuous member of a new class of objects about which we are
just learning-the Kuiper Belt objects beyond the orbit of Neptune. The
opportunity for our generation to complete the reconnaissance of the
solar system and reach Pluto is fleeting. NASA has a plan to reach Pluto
with a 2004 launch, the last chance for centuries to reach the planet
with its atmosphere intact and with favorable lighting conditions. But
for a lack of about 0.5% in the NASA budget, those plans are proposed
for cancellation. Because this issue has received such great public
attention, we specifically ask that Congress review the proposed
cancellation in an open hearing. We will be pleased to testify about the
important scientific reasons to explore the planet and the consequences
if we fail to take advantage of the narrow window to launch a mission.

International Cooperation

There are many other issues that could be mentioned concerning the space
program - too many for this letter. But we must cite one that deeply
concerns us: losses to the U.S. space program resulting from inhibitions
to international cooperation. The inability of the United States to
develop low cost launchers coupled with a policy prohibiting Americans
to take advantage of the world's oversupply of rockets and launch sites,
is holding back the country's access to space. Additionally, technology
and communication policies slow down scientific and technical
accomplishment in the space program, or make it much more expensive.
Congress has added restrictive language supposedly protecting American
space launch industry that has actually restricted access to space and
inhibiting American space exploration and development. Regulations
imposed by the Congress are keeping American ideas earth-bound instead
of in space.
Public support for international cooperation is strongly evidenced by
the space station - a program which gained little support as a
nationalistic endeavor when first proposed, and which has enjoyed
widespread support when converted to an international program. This is
an important consideration in planning the future of the space


We ask that the Committee:
Add funds to Space Science specifically to accomplish a Pluto mission.
Initiate funding for programs to study the future of human space flight
beyond low Earth orbit, including the development of Mars Outposts in
the Space Science program.
Easing of regulations restricting international cooperation.
The Planetary Society presents our position in terms of public interest
and popularity of space exploration. The Society is the largest space
interest group on Earth. We ask for your consideration of the great
interest in space exploration, and thank you for your attention.


Bruce Murray - President, The Planetary Society

Wesley T. Huntress, Jr. - Vice President, The Planetary Society

Louis Friedman - Executive Director, The Planetary Society


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