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Sun, Aug 22, 2010

Planetary Society Asks Congress To Revisit Human Space Exploration Plan

Society Contends That The Current Bills Lack Coherence And Have Serious Omissions

The Planetary Society has sent a letter to the Chairs and Ranking Minority Members of the four subcommittees currently considering the NASA budget and the Administration's plan for human space exploration. The letter states: "We are concerned about omissions and a lack of coherence in the four committees' versions of this bill."

The Society details a number of the problems in the bills, including the vagueness about replacing the Space Shuttle and setting goals for human space flight. "The bills reject the President's new plan, as well as the old Constellation plan, and instead come up with a patchwork of proposals," stated Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society. The letter is signed by him, together with incoming Executive Director, Bill Nye, and the Planetary Society's President, Jim Bell, and Vice-President, Heidi Hammel.

Bill Nye

In the letter, the Planetary Society says the bills' shortcomings include no plan to restore U.S. technical capability to launch astronauts to space once the shuttle is retired. At best, the letter says, "there are directions that -- even if followed -- will likely lead to a “launch gap” years longer than was planned, even with Ares, and certainly longer than could be expected from the commercial launch industry, if they are supported."

Heidi Hammel

 They also say that there are no exploration goals are set other than vague citations of building capability to ultimately fly to destinations beyond Earth orbit. Instead, "we support identification of specific targets such as going beyond the Moon for the first time, then to a near-Earth asteroid, then to the orbit of Mars, and then to Mars itself. As Gemini and the early Apollo missions engaged the Nation on the way to the Moon landing, so too can steps into the solar system engage the Nation on the way to Mars," the letter states.

The letter concludes by asking the Senators and Representatives to step back from each of the Congressional bills that have been passed by the Authorization and Appropriations Committees and refocus on the whole. "We are concerned that the path on which the legislative process is proceeding will lead to an incomplete plan, which would be worse than no plan at all," the letter states. "We ask for your help and leadership, and that of your colleagues on the full Committees, to prevent that. This may require stepping back from each of the Congressional bills now passed by Committees and refocusing on the whole. Congress’ interests and the Administration’s interests are more alike than different. We urge your support for a new NASA plan."



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