Paul Spudis spoke Saturday morning at the ISDC, reviewing how NASA is implementing the Vision for Space Exploration and what is right and wrong with it. He said he sees a number of good decisions NASA has made regarding the Vision, including basing the lunar lander on the RL-10 engine, which allows the use of propellants that could be made on the Moon; focusing on an outpost in the polar regions versus individual sortie missions scattered around the Moon; and early involvement of international partners.
However, Spudis identified several problems he saw with the current implementation. First, he cited the lack of robotic missions beyond LRO, a decision he said was initially based on funding problems but he now perceives as the agency’s belief that it needs only “a good map” to go back to the Moon. He also disagreed with NASA’s choice of lunar orbit rendezvous over the Earth-Moon L-1 point for staging lunar landings; he believes L-1 is a much better place for a cislunar depot for lunar-produced propellants. He also described the Ares program as “having all the disadvantages of a shuttle-derived system but none of the advantages”; he prefers a Shuttle-C or similar approach. The biggest problem? “NASA still doesn’t really understand what its mission is,” he said, creating “catalogs” of rationales rather than a single unified explanation. “I always thought that if you couldn’t state your mission in a single sentence, you probably don’t know what it is.” His suggestion: “We’re going to the Moon to learn how to live and work on another world. It’s that simple.”
Spudis was not optimistic that there would be significant changes in NASA’s current approach to the Vision, but at the same time tried not to be too pessimistic. “I don’t think this is primarily about money. I think it’s about attitude,” he explained. “Have we reached a point of no return? I don’t think we have, but I think we are getting close.” His closing assessment of the Vision: “I want this to happen. I think this is the best idea to come along as far as the direction of the space program in a long time. I’m very concerned that it’s not going to happen.”