The Planetary Society, which announced its guiding principles for a “Roadmap to Space” a few weeks ago, followed that this morning with the release of its full-fledged exploration roadmap at a press conference in downtown Washington. The biggest change the society made in NASA’s current exploration plan is to defer the goal of a 2020 human return to the Moon. Instead, they propose human missions beyond the Moon, such as to the Lagrange points and to a near Earth object, before embarking on human lunar landings and a base, and then only if it serves to advance what the society considers the ultimate goal, which is human missions to Mars. Deferring the human lunar missions, they argue, will help reduce the financial burden on NASA and allow it to focus on developing elements on Constellation, including Ares and Orion.
The proposal also calls for increased cooperation with other nations to create a true partnership for space exploration. NASA is already offering to work with other nations in the implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration, but Lou Friedman, executive director of The Planetary Society, said at the press conference that he envisions something more cooperative than the current situation, where NASA decides what is open to international participation and what is not. Greater international participation, they added, would also help decrease the fiscal burden on NASA.
As for Constellation itself, society officials sent some mixed messages. They did endorse development of Ares 1, Ares 5, and Orion (the full report calls for continued development of Ares and Orion and that the shuttle be retired “as soon as possible”). However, at the press conference they were open to reviewing Ares and Orion, and that during the development of the report the study team didn’t delve into the technical issues of Ares versus alternative launch vehicles. When asked, Friedman said it was “not inconsistent” to say they supported Constellation while also endorsing a review of the current approach.
Going forward, Friedman said the society planned to work both the executive and legislative branches, getting the report into the hands of President-Elect Barack Obama’s NASA transition team as well as key members of Congress; in the latter case, he said that he hopes that it leads to Congressional hearings on the subject in the next Congress.