Committee Considers the Path Forward in Human Spaceflight


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(Washington, DC) - Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to examine the future of human space exploration following the release of a report by the National Research Council's (NRC) Committee on Human Space Flight titled, Pathways to Exploration: A Review of the Future of Human Space Exploration. The report provided several key recommendations and findings on the future of the U.S. human space exploration.

The Committee heard testimony from the co-chairs of the NRC's report, former Governor of Indiana and current President of Purdue University, The Honorable Mitch Daniels and Dr. Jonathan Lunine, the Director of Cornell University's Center for Radiophysics and Space Research.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her opening statement, "As I said when the report was first released, the National Academies has provided the nation with an important 'wake-up call'. Their conclusions are clear. We are not going to have a human space exploration program worthy of this great nation if we continue down the current path. Failing to provide the resources needed to make real progress and failing to embrace a clear goal and pathway will keep us from achieving our goal."

The witnesses emphasized the need for sustained investments in the U.S. human space exploration program over multiple Congresses and Administrations in order to commit to a pathway approach and successfully achieve a human mission to Mars. Specifically, both Governor Daniels and Dr. Lunine emphasized that if budgets continue to only increase at the rate of inflation, the goal of landing humans on Mars will never be attained. The co-chairs also made it clear that regardless of the pathway that is adopted, there needs to be consistency over a long period of time that survives the changing U.S. political landscape.

In his prepared statement, Governor Daniels commented on what led his committee to reach a strong consensus in favor of a continuation of the nation's human spaceflight program saying, "Why did we come to that position? We did so because we became convinced through lengthy discussion and analysis that a combination of what we call the pragmatic and aspirational rationales, including the human impulse to explore and search for new knowledge in places we have never been, justifies the cost, risk and opportunities associated with sending humans beyond low Earth orbit--especially toward the 'horizon goal' we identified as Mars."

The members and witnesses also discussed the various pathways recommended by the report and the role Congress should have in developing a roadmap or other specific requirements, destinations, or milestones to achieve the goal of sending humans to the surface of Mars. In addition, the members discussed the NRC committee's conclusions on the need to work with international partners and how to ensure those collaborations are successful.

Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD) of the Subcommittee on Space said in her statement for the record, "I am heartened that the detailed findings and recommendations from the panel mirror many of the key aspects of the NASA Authorization Bill recently passed by the House. Both identify Mars as a goal, the NRC panel calling it the horizon goal and both call for a specific sequence of intermediate accomplishments and destinations of increasing difficulty and complexity leading to the goal of a human mission to Mars. Both recognize that it will be a highly complex and technologically challenging endeavor. And both recognize the risks, such as space radiation, to our astronauts. Having converged on the what, the task at hand is determining how." 

Dr. Lunine agreed with Ms. Edwards on many of these points. He said in his prepared statement, "Whether to pursue human exploration beyond low Earth orbit in a truly sustainable way is a decision that deserves careful consideration by our nation's leaders, stakeholders both favorable and opposed, and the public at large. And in making that decision it will be important to ask a question posed many times by us to those provided input to this study, 'What would a future be like where there was no expectation that Americans will go into space?'"

Ms. Johnson added, "As Members of Congress, the ball is now in our court, and we have choices to make. We can choose to continue to argue about which President or who in Congress is to blame for the current state of our human space exploration program, but I earnestly hope that we won't. We are where we are, and we can't change the past. Our focus needs to be on how we proceed from this point forward."

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