The Planetary Society supports President Bush's proposal to set a goal for human exploration beyond Earth orbit.
"The Society has long advocated an exploration goal for the human space program," said Society President Wesley T. Huntress, Jr. "We welcome the President's proposal and hope it results in concrete steps leading to humans on Mars."
President Bush's proposed changes in the US human spaceflight program include refocusing human spaceflight from Earth-orbital operations to exploration of deep space and a return to the Moon as a proving ground for human exploration of Mars.
"Much work, both technical and political, needs to be done to implement this program," said Society Executive Director Louis Friedman. "This is a crucial beginning."
Friedman noted that The Planetary Society has previously proposed many of the key elements of the President's plan.
Those elements include
using the shuttle only to complete construction of the international space station and then terminating the program,
scrapping plans for the Orbital Space Plane,
developing a new crew vehicle with requirements for deep space exploration as well as transport of humans to Earth orbit and return,
focusing space station research on human exploration in deep space.
Planetary Society co-founder Bruce Murray added, "Establishing robotic outposts on Mars at candidate human landing sites should be an important milestone in preparing for human missions."
Murray added, "The worldwide attention focused on Spirit's successful Mars landing testifies to the enormous public and scientific interest in robotic exploration of Mars. Robots must precede and accompany humans in exploring Mars. The Planetary Society welcomes Bush's support of robotic exploration."
However, the proposed policy does not clearly make Mars the focus of human space flight. Bush's proposal places emphasis on the moon, including the construction of a launching base - a technically questionable idea.
The Society has not taken a position on the lunar proposal offered in the President's statement. "Carl Sagan remarked, many years ago, that the Moon could end up a detour, rather than a stepping stone, to Mars. How lunar missions would lead to a Mars landing must be closely examined," Friedman said. "The essential requirement is to keep the focus on sending humans to Mars -- investigating conditions of life and habitability on that planet," he added.
The Planetary Society will help build a public constituency, rally Congressional support, and promote international cooperation for a human space exploration program leading to Mars.
"We applaud the Administration for providing a vision for where we are going in human space exploration and for providing clear goals to re-energize an enterprise that has been stuck in Earth orbit for more than 30 years," said Huntress.