Humans in Space: What Next?

This statement goes well beyond NASA’s domain in calling for a revitalized space focus across many federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation (with new private space ventures coming online over the next year), the Department of Commerce, Dept. of Energy, and the Dept. of Defense. Three specific goals are stated for the near term for human spaceflight: increased reliable access, establishing a Moon base, and focusing on the threat from Earth-crossing asteroids and comets.

The recommendations follow:

1. REVITALIZED POLICY. The U.S. should strengthen its leadership in human space exploration by building on the principles in the 1988
National Space Policy
. Accordingly, the U.S. government should once again direct federal departments and agencies to permanently open the space frontier to enable the U.S. and humanity to receive the enormous benefits from the exploration, development, and settlement of space.

2. LOW COST SPACE ACCESS. Low cost, robust, and reliable access to space is the single largest barrier to further advancement in space exploration and development. Therefore, NASA and the Departments of Defense and Transportation should be directed to place a priority on work to develop the technology and regulations for affordable, reliable, and frequent human access to and from space. Wherever possible, these technologies should share a common architecture and engage the private sector – ranging from entrepreneurs to existing aerospace companies – to ensure that a broad range of approaches are considered. Included in this recommendation is clarification of regulations and policies related to suborbital launch activities.

3. PERMANENT LUNAR BASE. NASA should be assigned the task of preparing for and, immediately after completion of the International Space Station (ISS), establishing a permanent human presence on the Moon. A lunar base would enable the long-term exploration of the Moon, utilization of lunar resources (including energy, oxygen, and metals) to reduce the cost of space operations, and development of infrastructure and test facilities to support the industrialization/commercialization of space and exploration of the solar system. A permanent lunar facility also provides a low gravity, isolated, stable, magnetic-field free, vacuum environment to perform cutting-edge physics, medical research, astronomy, sensitive biological/genetic investigations, and industrial research that could lead to major breakthroughs. A focused but incremental effort to return to the Moon would also give the ISS a renewed objective for testing new hardware, software, human operations, logistics, assembly, and medical safety protocols. This effort would also help drive design and operations choices for the Orbital Space Plane and next generation launch vehicle programs; the use of common architecture in these efforts will save time and money in the long-term.

4. PLANETARY PROTECTION. The Department of Defense should be assigned the task of developing protections for American space assets and the nation from terrestrial and extra-terrestrial threats, including orbital debris and Earth-crossing asteroids and comets.

Of course there are many

voices out there calling for changes in the way we handle human spaceflight – does space flight make sense as a rapid deployment capability for our armed forces? Or are we just not technologically ready for people in space at all yet? From my experience with NSS, a lot of years of knowledge about space development goes into these statements, and they represent a very realistic view of what actually is possible in the near future.

Other National Space Society policy statements, on a variety of topics are available on the NSS chapters web site.