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Planetary Society Steps Beyond Moon for Roadmap to Space


Mat Kaplan
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

The Planetary Society today outlined a vigorous new approach to space exploration for the consideration of the new U.S. Administration and Congress. "Beyond the Moon: A New Roadmap for Human Space Exploration in the 21st Century" calls for the United States to create -- in cooperation with international partners -- a space program that is as inspiring as it is sustainable in the world’s current economic climate.

Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society; Cornell University Professor and planetary scientist Jim Bell, the Society's President; and Stanford University Professor and Society Board member Scott Hubbard, presented the Roadmap at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Neil deGrasse Tyson, past President of the Planetary Society and current Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, was also on hand to answer questions.

Key elements of the plan include:

* focusing on Mars as the driving goal of human spaceflight
* deferring humans landing on the Moon until the costs of the interplanetary transportation system and shuttle replacement are largely paid
* accelerating research into global climate change through more comprehensive Earth observations
* achieving a step-by-step approach of new achievements in interplanetary flight, including a human mission to a near-Earth object

In short, the Roadmap calls for "A new and flexible program, based on a series of important first-time achievements and an international commitment to exploration and discovery." International cooperation is strongly recommended both to reduce costs for any one nation and to increase public interest and support.

Bell said, “This is clearly a time of national and international economic uncertainty. Whatever the long-term impact of this turmoil may be on the U.S. national budget, we believe that a strong, sustainable space program must remain an important national and international priority. Space exploration is a peaceful global enterprise that fosters a skilled workforce, stimulates new technologies, and leads to important new discoveries about our planet and the other worlds around us. Moreover, space exploration motivates new generations of scientists and engineers and inspires people worldwide.”

After reading the Roadmap, Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin agreed that leadership, change and cooperation were needed in the U.S. human space flight program. He said, "U.S. landings on the Moon should be deferred so that they can be part of an international base on the Moon preparing the way for permanent settlement of Mars." He also called for earlier steps to Mars, including human visits to a near-Earth object and humans operating on a Martian moon preparatory to the Mars settlement. "I am glad these steps to eventual permanent occupation of Mars were included in The Planetary Society's Roadmap," he added.

The impetus for creating the Roadmap came from a workshop, co-sponsored by The Planetary Society and Stanford University, entitled “Examining the Vision: Balancing Science and Exploration.” Held at Stanford in February 2008, the workshop gathered some 50 experts from a diverse range of space-related disciplines to discuss the United States' Vision for Space Exploration and other important space and Earth science priorities.

The Planetary Society gathered further input from its members and the public through a series of Town Hall meetings in the US and overseas.

Several priorities came to light. For human exploration, Mars is clearly the next crucial goal. Lunar exploration can be an intermediate step towards that goal, but care needs to be taken that it not absorb too many resources and become the end goal in itself.

"The U.S. landed humans on the Moon nearly 40 years ago," said Friedman. "Returning to the Moon has not sufficiently excited the public, and will require resources that will be badly needed elsewhere in the space program.” He added that the current program also lacks the international cooperation necessary for generating public support.

Another crucial Roadmap component is studying our own planet from space to gain additional insight into the climate change Earth is undergoing at an accelerated rate.

Finally, the science of Earth, the solar system and universe are key parts of a balanced program. “Mars beckons and may hold the answers to the fundamental question of ‘Are we alone?’” said Hubbard. “We must carefully craft an integrated and sustained program of robotic and human explorers working together to achieve that goal.”

The team that created the Roadmap includes Bell, Friedman, and Hubbard along with Wesley T. Huntress, Jr, formerly of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and a Planetary Society Board member; Chris McKay, Planetary Society Board member and planetary scientist; Douglas Stetson, Space Science and Exploration Consulting Group; and Kathryn Thornton, University of Virginia.

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