Wednesday morning’s briefing on the Committee on Human Spaceflight’s report largely followed the key points laid out in the report and discussed here. That included the decision to make Mars the “horizon goal” for human space exploration, a discussion of some of the exploration architectures included in the report, and other issues about public sentiment and spending.
The committee’s leadership did make it clear in the briefing that they do not consider NASA’s current plans adequate. “The program of record, we believe, will not be able to get us to the ultimate horizon goal in a foreseeable amount of time,” so co-chairman Jonathan Lunine, echoing comments made by the other co-chairman, Mitch Daniels. “We recommend a change to what we call a ‘pathways’ approach to human space exploration. This is a specific sequence of intermediate accomplishments and destinations that led to the horizon goal and for which there is technology feed forward from one mission to subsequent missions.”
That comment would appear to be a sharp rejection of the “flexible path” approach that NASA largely adopted from the Augustine Committee’s 2009 report. Yet NASA, in a statement Wednesday afternoon, largely endorsed the report.
“After a preliminary review, we are pleased to find the NRC’s assessment and identification of compelling themes for human exploration are consistent with the bipartisan plan agreed to by Congress and the Administration in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and that we have been implementing ever since,” NASA said. “There is a consensus that our horizon goal should be a human mission to Mars and the stepping stone and pathways thrust of the NRC report complements NASA’s ongoing approach.” The statement makes no mention of the comments by the committee rejecting the program of record, or more technical criticism in the report of a mission architecture that includes the Asteroid Redirect Mission.
The report also got an endorsement from Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “This is affirmation that a mission to Mars is a go,” he said in a statement. “But as the report points out, we’ll have to give NASA sufficient resources to get this done.” Nelson’s statement doesn’t address the criticism of NASA’s current plans found in the report.
The criticism of the ARM was highlighted in a statement by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee. “The NRC report also calls into question the Obama administration’s continued focus on the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), highlighting ‘an underlying concern that ARM would divert U.S. resources and attention’ from other potential missions,” he states. “The Committee has heard a number of concerns about ARM, as well as promising alternatives such as a flyby mission to Mars and Venus in 2021.” However, the report is silent on the 2021 Venus/Mars flyby concept developed by Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars effort, not including it in any of their mission architectures.