Status Report

Letter From Concerned Scientists Regarding H.R. 5666

By SpaceRef Editor
January 31, 2020
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31 January 2020

The Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson Chair, Committee on Science & Technology U.S House of Representatives

The Honorable Kendra Horn Chair, Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics Committee on Science & Technology U.S. House of Representatives

The Honorable Frank Lucas Ranking Member, Committee on Science & Technology U.S. House of Representatives

The Honorable Brian Babin Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Committee on Science & Technology U.S. House of Representatives

Chairwoman Johnson, Chairwoman Horn, Ranking Member Lucas, and Ranking Member Babin:

We are writing in response to the draft bill, HR 5666. We strongly agree that bipartisan support for our Nation’s space program is absolutely critical for its ongoing success. We also support the provisions for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. We additionally strongly assert that commercial sector involvement is a critical investment in the future of our country. However, we have grave concerns about the text of the draft bill that was released on 24 January 2020. Despite HR5666 stating that:

[Page 10] The Administrator is authorized under sections 20302 and 70504 of title 51, United States Code, and shall carry out plans and programs to achieve sustainable human exploration of deep space for the purpose of sending humans to the surface of Mars. The goal of NASA’s Moon to Mars program shall be to land humans on Mars in a sustainable manner as soon as practicable.

NASA has been given a set of restrictive instructions that will prevent sustainability and economic development from being built into our human space flight program. This is illustrated by the requirement for government ownership, and by implication, the traditional cost-plus contracting method for the Human Landing System. The way we interpret the bill means commercial involvement will be limited to the CLPS program that will not be allowed to grow beyond NASA contracts. As was shown by the Apollo program, a wholly taxpayer-funded human spaceflight program is not sustainable. Therefore, as we look to expand humanity to the Moon and beyond, it is critical that the American taxpayer be shown that there can be a tangible return on the investment of sending humans to survive and thrive off planet Earth.

The terms of the bill are overly prescriptive. As written, human missions to the lunar surface are limited to a small number of sortie missions. These portions of the bill appear to have been written with the false perspective that the Moon has no intrinsic value as a destination and that its resources and experience gained operating there make no contribution to further Mars exploration activities. Our strong assertion is that the Moon is an enabling asset that will foster sustainable human exploration of Mars, while expanding the economic sphere of the United States and our international partners. Additionally, this development will produce tangible economic returns on taxpayer investment to society back on Earth. Let us explain.

The value of the Moon for commercial, scientific, and exploration purposes is most clearly outlined in 2007 by the National Academies [], the 2007 report of the NASA Advisory Council Workshop [] and the United States Lunar Exploration Roadmap (US-LER) [] developed and maintained by the NASA Lunar Exploration Analysis Group []. The US-LER is particularly important – it was developed through an intensive community process featuring contributions from over 200 individuals representing an authoritative community viewpoint.

These documents all unambiguously outline the value of a permanent American lunar presence to prepare for ambitious voyages to other destinations and, in doing so, make fundamental advances in science and engineering. We also now know, thanks to the data from the US Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and LCROSS missions, that the resource potential of the Moon is vast. Leveraging lunar resources has the potential to not only open the entire Solar System to the United States, but create a true cislunar economy that enhances America’s economic security. Furthermore, our allies in Canada, Europe and Japan (and others) have also been steadfast in their interest over the past decade in making meaningful contributions to a US-led outpost on the surface of the Moon. Therefore, a lunar outpost offers meaningful opportunities for sustained international collaboration in a way that Mars missions do not.

In order to develop a sustained human exploration of Mars, we must first build a solid knowledge in terms of living and working on another world. This can only be developed at the Moon and in cis-lunar space through a Moon to Mars program that facilitates and develops commercial and international involvement initially at the Moon, then expanding sustainably to Mars. This, in our opinion, is true American leadership in space.

Lunar resources are the key to the success of a Moon to Mars program. Unfortunately, HR5666 restricts NASA from developing these partnerships. Yet HR5666 states:

[Page 22] Lunar in-situ resource utilization shall not be considered as risk reduction for the initial crewed missions to orbit and land on Mars. Any lunar in-situ resource utilization activities and shall not be included in the Moon to Mars Program and shall be budgeted separately from the Moon to Mars Program.

The integration of lunar (and Martian) resource utilization is vital for the sustainable and cost-effective human space exploration program beyond Earth orbit, as it is critical that we learn to “live off the land” beyond the Earth Unfortunately, once again HR5666 restricts the use of the Moon to enable Mars, as well as restricting human activity on Mars, as it states:

[Page 12] The Moon to Mars Program shall consist of the following:…. [Page 13] (2) A Lunar Precursor Initiative (LPI) for the purpose of gaining and demonstrating the operational experience and systems needed to enable crewed transport to and from the surface of Mars, as well as for limited operations and habitation on Mars.

It is our professional opinion that these restrictions will add exceptional risk to sending humans to Mars. For example, at the recent Affording Mars VII workshop (19-21 November 2019 at USRA HQ, Columbia, MD), lunar and martian advocates came together to focus on the synergies between the Moon and Mars that enable sustainable human exploration of both. In a report to be published soon, a significant finding showed there are important ways in which a lunar ISRU program could/would contribute to reducing the risk of human missions to Mars. In fact, there has been a sea change in the thinking of the two communities, who are now starting to work together to achieve the common goal of expanding humanity in the Solar System sustainably.

A lunar outpost is considered a noncritical path activity in HR5666 [Page 22]. However, it will be critical for gaining and demonstrating the operational experience and systems needed to enable humans to survive and thrive on Mars and return them safely. Sortie missions to Mars are untenable without significant development and testing of technologies in radiation protection, environmental control systems and large scale human space operations beyond Low Earth Orbit. By prohibiting NASA in the Moon to Mars program from setting up a lunar outpost, more risk is added to sending humans to Mars as much longer periods on the martian surface are required, which we are technologically and operationally unprepared to handle. A lunar outpost will solve these issues and will also allow further development of commercial involvement. Therefore we think that HR5666 should be modified to reflect the Senate NASA Authorization Bill S.2800:

[Page 6] NASA developed the Artemis program…. to collaborate with commercial and international partners to establish sustainable lunar exploration by 2028.

Establishing sustainable lunar exploration requires an outpost and lunar in situ resources utilization that directly feeds forward to and reduce risk for Mars missions.

Finally, if we do not provide that leadership on the Moon, other nations will. Please note that there are at least six international robotic lunar missions planned to explore the potential of lunar resources within the next six years. The ambitions of other nations are public and are based on geopolitical advantage. President Kennedy’s words from 1962 are every bit as true today as they were then: whatever human beings undertake, the free world must fully share. It is our considered professional assessment that with other nations, some with intentions not aligned to American interests, clearly expressing their intent to use the resources of the Moon, it is essential that the United States must always occupy a position on the lunar surface second to none to ensure our security throughout cislunar space.

Therefore, a permanent American presence on the lunar surface has immense societal, scientific, economic, and national security value in its own right, while essential to successful human missions to Mars. The Moon is also the critical gateway to the Solar System that enables new spacefaring capabilities, new jobs here on Earth, and a bold new paradigm for space exploration. Therefore, we need to think beyond the Apollo model of human space exploration. Accordingly, we would be delighted to work with the committee on new language that accurately reflects the real value of our Moon.

Yours most sincerely:

[signed by lunar science, engineering, resource, and mission planning experts that span the Apollo to Artemis generations from 12 states]

Clive R. Neal – University of Notre Dame, Indiana  A lunar scientist with 34 years of experience in science and exploration of our Moon.

Jack O. Burns – University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado  Director of SSERVI Network for Exploration & Space Science, P.I. of two NASA-funded lunar farside radio telescope studies, Presidential NASA Transition Team 2016/17, Past-Chair of NASA Advisory Council Science Committee

Brett Denevi – Lunar Scientist, Maryland  >10 years of experience focusing on lunar regolith evolution and is Deputy PI on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, and Co-I, ShadowCam on the Korean Lunar Orbiter.

Christopher B. Dreyer – Colorado School of Mines, Colorado  Combined 20 years of experience in teaching and developing space resources technology in the areas of lunar excavation, material handling, resource extraction, and in situ instrumentation.

Amy L. Fagan – Early Career Lunar Scientist, North Carolina  10 years of experience in the analysis and interpretation of lunar samples and associated data.

Laura Forczyk – Astralytical, Georgia  Planetary scientist specializing in lunar regolith and operations, with 16 years of experience working in the space sector and 10 years of experience working on lunar exploration.

Timothy Glotch – Stony Brook University, New York  Planetary scientist with 18 years of experience who uses infrared remote sensing data to study the surface compositions of the Moon, Mars, and asteroids

James W. Head, III – Brown University, Rhode Island Apollo Lunar Exploration Program astronaut training, mission planning and operations, followed by 50 years of research and robotic exploration of the Moon, planets and satellites.

Bradley L. Jolliff – Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri Lunar and planetary scientists with >30 years of experience in the study of samples from the Moon & Mars and the identification and use of lunar resources.

Philip T. Metzger – University of Central Florida, Florida  A planetary scientist with 35 years of experience, who develops technologies for lunar resource utilization and surface construction extensible to Mars.

Lillian R. Ostrach – Lunar Scientist, Arizona  A lunar scientist with >10 years of experience and who is committed to supporting a human-led era of exploration of the Moon’s geology and resources

Mark Robinson – Planetary Scientist, Arizona  >30 years of experience. Has been involved with numerous NASA projects investigating a wide range of planetary bodies, but with focus on the Moon because it has a huge resource potential, and ultimately holds the key for human expansion across the Solar System.

Charles Shearer – University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico >35 years of experience in lunar science and exploration.

George Sowers – Colorado School of Mines, Colorado 30 years of experience in the space transportation field and now Professor of Practice focusing on Space Resources.

G. Jeffrey Taylor, University of Hawaii, Hawaii A lunar scientist with knowledge of lunar resources (prospecting, extraction, processing) with 50 years of experience.

Ryan N. Watkins – Planetary Science Institute, Missouri  Early career lunar scientist who deeply believes that now is the time to return to the Moon because it holds the answers to questions about our own planet.

Dennis Wingo – Skycorp Incorporated, California  32 years of experience working on lunar resources, missions, and science.

SpaceRef staff editor.