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[b]Committee Democrats Emphasize Need for Human Space Exploration Roadmap[/b]
Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to examine the need for a strategic human exploration roadmap and whether a potential manned Mars flyby mission might fit in such a roadmap. Although the hearing was also called to examine how NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle being developed might contribute to a potential Mars flyby mission in 2021, there were no witnesses from NASA to provide further details on their status.
Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her opening statement, "It's time for NASA to tell us how they intend to achieve that goal [of a human mission to the surface of Mars]. What technologies will be needed, what sequence of intermediate destinations should be pursued and why, and what are the risks that will need to be addressed? We also need to hear from NASA about the progress being made on the Space Launch System and on Orion, the two systems that are critical to our exploration efforts beyond low Earth orbit. What are the challenges they are facing, how will they be used to support NASA's roadmap to Mars, and are they being adequately funded to meet the milestones laid out for those two programs?"
The witness panel included Dr. Scott Pace, the Director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University; General Lester Lyles (ret.), an independent aerospace consultant and former Chairman of the Committee on "Rationale and Goals of the U.S. Civil Space Program" established by the National Academies; Mr. Doug Cooke, the owner of Cooke Concepts and Solutions and former NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Mission Directorate; and Dr. Sandra Magnus, the Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Members and witnesses discussed the importance of developing a roadmap that will lead to a human mission to Mars. Subcommittee on Space Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD) called for NASA to create such a roadmap in the NASA authorization bill she introduced last July. In her statement for the record she said, "NASA does not currently have such a roadmap or integrated strategic framework. As a result, NASA cannot provide us with specifics on Mars mission risk areas, potential risk mitigation approaches, and the rationale for planned intermediate destinations. Nor can it articulate how its programs or selected interim destinations contribute effectively to making progress on such a roadmap."
Several other members and witnesses also discussed other needed aspects of a roadmap, including technologies, commitment, and sustainability. In addition, they discussed the need for continued NASA funding, setting long-term priorities and goals, as well as the role of NASA's human spaceflight missions in inspiring the nation.
General Lester Lyles' expressed concern with the Mars flyby mission in his prepared statement saying, "In my own opinion, the Inspiration Mars proposal is high risk, poses significant challenges to the crew because of radiation and life support concerns, has unidentified cost, and is being proposed at a time that NASA's budget is already over-constrained." He added, "[W]hat will it all cost, and is this the best way to spend limited resources? Before making any major decisions concerning such a mission, it is vital that the proposal undergo a vigorous independent technical evaluation."
Dr. Sandy Magnus said in her prepared statement, "The Mars Flyby thus can only be discussed in the context of that larger strategy and the associated missions and operational goals. I would also like to underscore that any plan, whether its goals are to retrieve an asteroid, establish a lunar base, or send people to Mars – or any combination thereof – is doomed to failure without the resources to support it – resources provided in a sustained and sustainable manner based on realistic projections."
Ranking Member Johnson called for a future hearing with a witness from NASA to discuss the progress being made on SLS, Orion, and related investments, as well as on NASA's progress in developing a clear human space exploration roadmap.
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