DALLAS, Texas ? NASA?s road back to the Moon and onward to Mars is notonly technologically challenging but it may also be a proposition that could fall short due tolack of needed funding.
As kick-started by President George Bush in January 2004, NASA?s vision of extendingthe human touch beyond low Earth orbit is being subjected to lack of both WhiteHouse and Congressional budget support.
That?s theview from Congressman Nick Lampson of Texas? 22nd Congressional District that represents NASA?s Johhnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
?Thebudgets are not there. We?re seeing a business as usual approach that is notgoing to deliver the robust and broad-based exploration program laid out in thevision for space exploration,? Lampson said today at the National SpaceSociety?s 26th Annual International Space Development Conferencebeing held here May 25-28.
Adding hisvoice of concern regarding the overall budgetary health of NASA?s expansiveexploration agenda was former shuttle astronaut, Michael Coats, now the 10thdirector of the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
?ThePresident?s fiscal year 2008 budget request is absolutely vital to NASA afterthe cut we took with the continuing resolution this year,? Coats observed.
Coatsstressed the need for all to recognize the strategic importance of civil spaceprogram to the nation. Moreover, for the United States to maintain a leadership role, he said, far more emphasismust be placed on the need for math, science and engineering education.
?The spaceprogram is important, not only for our national security, but our economy?andthe two of those are tied together,? Coats emphasized.
As NASAblueprints new desires to return to the Moon, the United States is at a similar point faced in the1960s ? the epic times of the Apollo program that led to six expeditions to thesurface of that nearby world.
Butquestioned NASA Coats: ?There is no doubt that humans will return to the Moon.The only question is which humans?which country will send them?what values willthey bring? We are the generation to help determine if the national will tolead still exists.?
Regardingthe NASA Moon, Mars and beyond vision quest, Coats highlighted internationalinvolvement.
?We havedefined a minimalist exploration architecture centered on the Orion (the post-shuttle piloted craft), Ares crew and heavy lift launch vehicles as firstcritical elements" said Coats, "with the hope that international and commercial partners willwant to augment these capabilities with their own.?
Moving outbeyond Earth orbit and beyond the Moon is rife with danger andstill-to-be-thwarted hazards, Coats warned.
?The potentialrisks to human health on long duration missions beyond Earth orbit representthe greatest challenge to human exploration of deep space,? Coats emphasized
While workonboard the International Space Station is helping to study the impact on thehuman body of long duration space travel, there?s still miles to go in beatingback potential medical issues.
For one,intense levels of radiation spewed out from the Sun ?is one of the realchallenges to carrying out long duration space missions,? Coats said. There aremutli-faceted solutions needed and already being worked upon, he added.
Anotherchallenge of departing the Earth for longer treks in space is recycling.
To maintainspace crews on missions two or three years away from Earth will be demanding,Coats said. ?We will have to be self-sustaining for the first time in humanhistory.?
For thelong haul, beyond the Moon and Mars, Coats added: ?We?re trying to keep ouraperture open.?
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