NASA: It’s Your Move, Mr. President

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Image: Direct Launcher Team / Philip Metschan

With the space shuttle nearing retirement (seven flights remaining), the International Space Station almost finished and plans for blasting more astronauts out of this world under fire, the Human Space Flight Review panel has a lot to figure out — and not a lot of time.

President Obama set a 90-day deadline when he asked a blue-ribbon panel in May to conduct a detailed review of the U.S. human spaceflight program, now a mature 50-something but no less part of America’s cultural and scientific DNA than it was in the brash days of the Mercury 7.

Should we go back to the moon? Leave the moon to private industry and move on to Near Earth Objects (the asteroid belt) and Mars? International cooperation or go it alone? Partner with private rocket jocks or build rockets with government money? Keep the shuttle running a little longer? Redirect the Constellation program or stop it altogether to go in a new direction? Ditch the International Space Station or sell it? What will change mean to the American space workforce, government and private?

These are just some of the questions that the HSF panel will consider before making a recommendation to the president and Congress on the way forward.

I was lucky enough to attend one of the public meetings. The mood in the crowd was ripe with expectation. Lay people, students and those working in the industry packed the auditorium, hoping to catch a glimpse of where the panel’s thinking may lie. Personally, I was very impressed with what I saw. The panel was very inquisitive and asked many probing questions. No assumption was left to stand without some evidence to back it up. (Also, it was very cool to see Sally Ride in person!)

Before the end of August, Norman Augustine and the other members of the panel will deliver the group’s consensus. I am very much looking forward to the presentation. At that point, the ball will be in Obama’s court. Traditionally, the president has been the one to set priorities for NASA and where the country takes its space program. I would love to see a video like this with President Obama announcing a bold plan to explore our solar neighborhood:

These are exciting times! I for one am rooting for the creation of America’s first Space Academy. Although, I’d prefer it be established in Cocoa Beach instead of in San Francisco. Where do you think America’s future lies when it comes to human spaceflight? Take our poll and let your voice be heard.

Where should NASA place its focus for human spaceflight? (polls)

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