Former shuttle astronaut Kathryn Thornton testifies this week to the House Science and Technology Committee Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics about the results of Examining the Vision: the Balance between Science and Exploration, a workshop co-sponsored by The Planetary Society and the Stanford University Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Held February 12-13, 2008, the workshop concluded that human space exploration is undertaken to serve both national and international interests, and that sustained human exploration requires enhanced international collaboration and offers the United States an opportunity for global leadership. Another consensus conclusion from the workshop was that the purpose of sustained human exploration is to go to Mars and beyond. The significance of the Moon, and other intermediate destinations, is to serve as stepping stones on the path to that goal.
Dr. Thornton will elaborate on these conclusions in her testimony this week and specifically says that the Constellation program is suffering from being schedule-driven while at the same time being cost-constrained. She also will speak about the subject of alternative destinations and stepping stones discussed at the workshop, noting that “a steppingstone approach to Mars might include [a number of] stepping stones… the important point is that each of the stepping stones, whichever they may be, should advance the science and technology needed for the next step and for the eventual human exploration of Mars, and none should be considered as permanent outposts that would again anchor us in place for decades.”
The Planetary Society–Stanford Workshop was the first step in The Planetary Society’s development of a Roadmap for U.S. Space Policy. While the workshop was a closed meeting of experts, The Planetary Society is following up that discussion with public Town Hall meetings, the first of which was chaired by Bill Nye the Science Guy – the Society’s Vice-President – this past weekend in Boston. More than 300 people crowded into the Clay Center Observatory at the Dexter-Southfield Schools to discuss space policy with Society Board members Heidi Hammel, Dan Geraci and Nye. At least two more Town Hall meetings are being planned. In addition to input from the workshop and the Town Hall meetings, The Planetary Society will gather additional information from the public via its website to create the roadmap later this year.
Three weeks ago the Society presented its own statement to the Committee, also featuring the conclusions of the Workshop. The Society told the House Subcommittee that “the Vision was strong but its support was weak,” and that to strengthen and sustain it, especially for a new U.S. Administration, it would have to be focused on Mars and serve more international purposes.