Rep. Smith and Bolden Square Off on Asteroid Mission

Rep. Smith and Bolden Square Off on Asteroid Mission

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee, and Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, squared off in dueling op-ed pieces in The Hill newspaper over the Obama Administration’s proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM).

Smith’s argument is that ARM is too costly even at the $2.6 billion level estimated by the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) and misses the mark as an inspiring mission: “It’s time the administration put forward an inspirational goal worthy of a great space-faring nation.  And the asteroid retrieval mission is not it.”

Not surprisingly, Bolden sees it differently.  In his op-ed the same day, he invoked the themes of planetary defense, potential resource utilization, technology development and moving closer to the goal of sending people to Mars as justifying the program:  “That is why we choose to go.”

The op-eds were published on Tuesday, a day before the House SS&T Space Subcommittee marked up the 2013 NASA authorization act.   The Republican version of the bill, which passed the subcommittee and was reported to the full committee on a party-line vote, prohibits spending any money on ARM.   A Democratic alternative proposed by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) was defeated on a party-line vote.  That bill, H.R. 2616, does not mention the ARM.   She wants a goal of landing people on Mars by 2030 and would leave the details on how to accomplish that to NASA (with the participation of the International Space Station partnership to the maximum extent praticable).    Near earth asteroids are simply one of a list of potential intermediate destinations that also includes the Moon, cis-lunar space, Lagrange points and the moons of Mars that may be pursued for human exploration as long as they “make significant contributions” to the goal of landing humans on Mars.  The Edwards bill also requires a study by the National Academies on the planetary protection ramifications of human missions to the poles of the Moon, near-earth asteroids, the moons of Mars, and the surface of Mars.


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