"Human space exploration is a great and unifying enterprise of planet Earth," declared The Planetary Society and American Astronautical Society in a joint statement calling for a robust new space transportation system for human exploration.
The Planetary Society, the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) USA, and the American Astronautical Society convened a workshop at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute to assess launch vehicle requirements to meet the needs of human space exploration beyond Earth orbit. The workshop was dedicated in memory of the shuttle Columbia crew.
The resulting statement, "Stepping into the Future," outlining the rationale behind human exploration and the new technology necessary to journey off-Earth, was endorsed by The Planetary Society and the American Astronautical Society, as well as by a number of astronauts present at the workshop.
The two organizations have conveyed the statement to the NASA Administrator and Congressional leaders.
One major conclusion of the workshop was the necessity to move beyond dependence on shuttle technology: "We see no essential role for continuing flight of the shuttle orbiter beyond its immediate goal of completing construction of the International Space Station and early transport of crewmembers to and from the Station. As soon as an alternate mode of human transport into and from low earth orbit is available, which should be accomplished as soon as possible, the shuttle orbiter should be retired."
In the aftermath of the accident with Columbia, the workshop participants also recommended that astronauts and cargo should be transported separately "…to increase flexibility, reduce cost and reduce the risks of human space exploration."
"The Congress, Administration and NASA now must make important decisions about the future of space exploration," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of the Planetary Society. "They will either choose an optimistic and positive direction for the human species -- outward -- or they will commit us to another 30 years bogged down in low Earth orbit."
Initial stages of such a robust human exploration program could rely on existing and currently planned propulsion technologies, including the fleet of expendable launch vehicles.
With Mars as an ultimate destination, the robotic program to the Red Planet needs to progress eventually to robotic outposts to prepare for astronauts arriving in the future.
"However such an exploration program is structured, "Stepping into the Future" emphasizes that it is a global enterprise, and no one nation can -- or should - go it alone," said Friedman. "Only working together will we find the necessary resources to explore beyond Earth orbit."
"The world's reaction to the loss of Columbia reminds us that astronauts are the emissaries of humankind," said former shuttle astronaut Tom Jones. "Our space station partnership shows the strengths that an international team can bring to our exploration efforts, despite the temporary grounding of the shuttle fleet. Our next journey outward, to the asteroids, Moon, or Mars, will benefit from participation by all the peoples of Earth."