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Space Exploration in the 21st Century

The Coalition for Space Exploration (Coalition) recognizes today’s Space Conference in Florida as an important step in the continuing discussion on the future of America’s global leadership in space exploration.

The Coalition believes human space exploration is a national imperative that calls for a focused strategy with a more aggressive timetable and milestones to drive the development of capabilities, in support of its missions. To successfully forge the industry and international partnerships necessary for future space exploration missions, America must have robust, sustained support from its elected officials and the public. This cannot be achieved, when goals are distant and unclear.

The President’s announcement, today, that NASA will undertake the development of a heavy-lift vehicle for deep space missions to specific destinations, including asteroids and Mars, provides some clarity to the future direction of space exploration, planned by the Administration. We commend the President’s efforts to help mitigate some of the job losses associated with the retirement of the Space Shuttle program and restructuring of Constellation. This highly skilled workforce is essential to the sustainment of our nation’s preeminence in space, economic, and national security and global competitiveness.  The erosion of this skill base would seriously affect the nation’s industrial base and national security strategies.

While the steps outlined by President Obama are encouraging, many key issues and concerns remain with regard to the transition from the current programs to the proposed new exploration agenda and the impact that it will have on our nation’s space industrial base and global leadership.

Delaying a decision until 2015 on the design of a heavy-lift vehicle, the establishment of its first human exploration mission for no earlier than 2025, as a precursor to a Mars expedition in 2030, threatens to sacrifice a generation of experience and expertise in our nation’s human space flight workforce. Continuing development of a variant of the Orion spacecraft is good news, in that it will reduce dependence on Russian spacecraft for International Space Station (ISS) crew escape and take advantage of existing assets and investments, but it by no means fully addresses the issue of independent, assured American access to space. There remain questions as to whether the proposal to rely solely on commercial providers to send American astronauts to the ISS is premature and threatens to extend indefinitely our reliance on other nations. In the final analysis, the U.S. human spaceflight program is a national imperative, not only a commercial interest.

The Coalition for Space Exploration sees today’s Space Conference as an opportunity to advance the ongoing discussion to outline a clear strategy for America’s future in the exploration of space.  We look forward to the coming deliberations of the Congress, as the legislative process continues, and as the voices of the public are heard in this important national dialogue.

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