Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Inching Toward a Consensus on Space?

The debate over the change in direction for space policy has been fast and furious over the past few months. Alan Boyle covers the most recent flurry of activity. But as he notes, a couple of letters issued this week may indicate some convergence among the warring factions.

A letter from 56 leaders including former astronauts and NASA executives, industry executives, scientists, journalists and activists strongly supports the Administration's plans to engage the commercial sector in transporting humans to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) while urging an acceleration of the Administration's plans and funding of human exploration beyond Earth orbit.

Meanwhile, 62 members of Congress issued a letter urging the President to change his plan to include "the immediate development and production of a heavy-lift launch vehicle that, in conjunction with the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, may be used for either lunar or deep-space asteroid exploration to an asteroid and beyond, as you said in Florida." Unlike some previous criticisms on the Obama proposed policy, this letter omitted any attack on the commercial to LEO plan. That omission drew a positive response from entrepreneurial leader SpaceX, according to Boyle.
"It looks like Congress is on the right track, encouraging the administration to move forward as quickly as possible with heavy-lift," SpaceX Vice President Lawrence Williams told me in an e-mailed statement.

While it is too soon to be presumptuous, could these letters hint at a dance of convergence toward a sensible compromise that includes a strong push for commercial to LEO while retaining our existing Shuttle derived and/or commercial launcher assets to expeditiously develop a Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV), perhaps itself to be operated under a commercial arrangement, and an acceleration of human deep space exploration and development?

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