Stafford Argues for Moon as Next Human Spaceflight Destination

Stafford Argues for Moon as Next Human Spaceflight Destination

Lt. Gen. Thomas Stafford (Ret.) told a Senate subcommittee today that a human mission to an asteroid should not be a central element of any “sensible” human spaceflight program.  Instead, a return to the Moon is a prerequisite to the ultimate goal of sending people to Mars and should be the next step.

Stafford is an iconic presence in the space community.  A former astronaut who flew four space missions — including commanding the 1975 U.S.-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) — he has remained closely involved in the civil space program even as his career took him back to the Air Force and ultimately into retirement.   

In his written statement today to the Subcommittee on Science and Space of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, he noted that a number of studies conducted over many decades are “remarkably consistent” that “[l]eadership in space is, for any society that can aspire to attain it, a key to leadership on Earth and in human society, for all the generations to come.”   He led one of those studies during the George H.W. Bush Administration entitled America at the Threshold: America’s Space Exploration Initiative.

He asserted that the “choice of destinations has … already been made for us.  The surface of the Moon is … our proper next frontier.”  He acknowledged that the concept of sending astronauts to an asteroid, whether the original plan announced by President Obama in 2010 or the new idea of directing an asteroid into cis-lunar space, has “inherent scientific interest.”   However, it “should not be the central theme of any sensible long-term human spaceflight program.  Such missions are an interesting adjunct to the far more interesting theme of human presence on the Moon” and then Mars.

Stafford also highlighted the importance of international cooperation in pursuing future human spaceflight goals. He has been deeply involved with U.S.-Soviet/Russian space cooperation since ASTP and chairs NASA’s International Space Station (ISS) Advisory Committee.  That committee and its Russian counterpart meet regularly to review and identify major issues for the ISS.   At a meeting last year, he told the Senate committee, the Russians shared their long term plan for human spaceflight.  It is based on international cooperation modeled on the ISS partnership, he reported.  “I have said that we should make it the nation’s business to lead in space.  We should.  But I have also noted that leaders need partners and allies.”

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, and Steve Cook, Director, Space Technologies, at Dynetics, also testified.   Gerstenmaier was very upbeat about the state of the human spaceflight program today and the road ahead, including the asteroid retrieval mission announced in the FY2014 budget request.   Cook represented the commercial space industry and emphasized the need for “stable, long-term space policy and supporting programs” in order for the “commercial space sector to flourish.”  In response to a question from subcommittee chairman Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Cook said the key is to have a long term plan with associated dates that the private sector can leverage in order to develop business plans and look for ways to be profitable.

A webcast of the hearing and the prepared statements of the witnesses are on the committee’s website.


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