In his prepared remarks Thursday at the Goddard Memorial Symposium, presidential science advisor John Marburger covered some of the same ground as he did in his speech there two years ago, where he said the debate over the Vision for Space Exploration was, at its core, “whether we want to incorporate the Solar System in our economic sphere, or not.” That rehashing was deliberate, he said, in order to reinforce the concept.
He did, though, take time to review some of the conclusions of the exploration workshop held at Stanford University last month, as described in the joint communiqué released after the event. He said while he agreed with some of the points, including one that said that “sustained human exploration requires enhanced international collaboration and offers the United States an opportunity for global leadership”, there was language in some of the others that made him “uneasy”.
For example, he disagreed with part of the first statement, which said, “The purpose of sustained human exploration is to go to Mars and beyond.” Marburger countered that the purpose of sustained lunar exploration was “to serve national and international interests”, which he added is broader than simply going somewhere and returning. He cited the policy statement released when the Vision for Space Exploration was announced, which states, “The fundamental goal of this vision is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program.” “Exploration that is not in support of something else,” Marburger said, “strikes me as somehow selfish and unsatisfying.”
He also disagreed with another part of the same point: “The significance of the Moon and other intermediate destinations is to serve as steppingstones on the path to that goal” of going to Mars and beyond. That language, he said, leaves out the economic potential of the Moon and other such “steppingstones”. “What are we going to do with those steppingstones once we’ve planted flags on Mars and beyond?” he said. “I read in these points a narrowing, not an expansion, of the Vision for Space Exploration. They ignore the very likely possibility that operations on the Moon and other intermediate destinations will serve national and international destinations other than science, but including science as a very important objective.”
“Exploration by a few is not the grandest achievement,” he said. “Occupation by many is grander.” (Although he added that by “occupation” he did not necessarily mean settlement but instead “routine access to resources”.) His long-term vision for the future is “one in which exploration has long since ceased and our successors reap the benefits of the new territories.”