By Ann Tyller | June 10, 2016 11:56 pm
Congress ready to shift space priorities.
With the end of Obama’s presidency the idea of a return trip to the moon is getting more popular and Congress is reconsidering the national’s space priorities.
Prioritizing the moon over the asteroid program would represent a major shift in NASA’s priorities.
The present administration’s space policy has long favored an asteroid mission
During the appropriations process, the House instructed NASA to cease the asteroid mission and instead “develop plans to return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed for Mars, including habitation modules, lunar prospecting, and landing and ascent vehicles.”
“There is no better proving ground than the Moon for NASA to test the technologies and techniques needed to successfully meet the goal of sending humans to Mars by the mid 2030s,” said Rep. Mike Honda (D) of Calif.
NASA says the asteroid mission will give them experience in human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit and allow them to test technologies that would be necessary in a Mars mission. NASA said a human mission to Mars could help address the question of whether life exists beyond Earth.
“Mars is a rich destination for scientific discovery and robotic and human exploration as we expand our presence into the solar system,” NASA said on its website. “Its formation and evolution are comparable to Earth, helping us learn more about our own planet’s history and future.”
Prioritizing a return trip to the moon before the trip to Mars has gained popularity in recent years. In an op-ed for Space.com, Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut and ISS commander, wrote that the Apollo program is now a distant memory and a return trip to the moon is necessary before a mission to Mars.
“What we really need is a new generation of explorers who can handle the moon, before biting off the enormous costs and risks of sending people to Mars,” Dr. Chiao wrote.
Dr. Chiao wrote the asteroid retrieval mission is “somewhat vague” and interest in the mission is “tepid at best.” The technology that NASA would test in the asteroid mission could more easily be tested in a trip to the moon, he wrote. Once a spacecraft performs a trans-Mars injection burn, there will not be enough fuel to turn around if the hardware fails, so it is essential to make sure it works.
“Where better to test this hardware, off-Earth, than the nearby moon (three days away)?” he wrote. “We would wring out the hardware, develop operations and train crew. Then, we would be ready to mount an astronaut mission to Mars.”PRINT THIS