The Vision for Space Exploration is the United States space policy announced on January 14, 2004 by the then U.S. President George W. Bush. It is seen as a response to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the state of human spaceflight at NASA, and a way to regain public enthusiasm for space exploration.
The Vision calls for the space program to:
Two planned configurations for a return to the Moon, heavy lift (left) and crew (right)|
Outlining some of the advantages, U.S. President George W. Bush addressed the following:
One of the stated goals for the vision is to gain significant experience in operating away from Earth's environment, as the White House contended, to embody a "sustainable course of long-term exploration." The Ares boosters are a cost-effective approach — entailing the Ares V's enormous, unprecedented cargo-carrying capacity — transporting future space exploration resources to the Moon's weaker gravity field. While simultaneously serving as a proving ground for a wide range of space operations and processes, the Moon may serve as a cost-effective construction, launching and fueling site for future space exploration missions. Unique products may be producible in the nearly limitless extreme vacuum of the lunar surface, and the Moon's remoteness is the ultimate isolation for biologically hazardous experiments. The Moon would become a proving ground also toward the development of In-Situ Resource Utilization, or "living off the land" (i.e., self-sufficiency) for permanent human outposts.
NASA has also outlined plans for manned missions to the far side of the Moon. All of the Apollo missions have landed on the near side.
In a position paper issued by the National Space Society (NSS), a return to the Moon should be considered a high space program priority, to begin development of the knowledge and identification of the industries unique to the Moon. The NSS believes that the Moon may be a repository of the history and possible future of our planet, and that the six Apollo landings only scratched the surface of that 'treasure'. According to NSS, the Moon's far side, permanently shielded from the noisy Earth, is an ideal site for future radio astronomy (for example, signals in the 1-10 MHz range cannot be detected on Earth because of ionosphere interference.)
When the Vision was announced in January 2004, the U.S. Congress and the scientific community gave it a mix of positive and negative reviews. For example, Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) said, "I think this is the best thing that has happened to the space program in decades." While physicist and outspoken manned spaceflight opponent Robert L. Park said that robotic spacecraft "are doing so well it's going to be hard to justify sending a human," the vision announced by the president stated that "robotic missions will serve as trailblazers -- the advanced guard to the unknown."
Others, such as the Mars Society, have argued that it makes more sense to avoid going back to the Moon and instead focus on going to Mars first.
Initial return missions as proposed by President Bush and NASA, can be done through space operations using the existing launch infrastructure and assets developed by the shuttle and International Space Station programs, plus existing expendable launch vehicles, with a minimum of new research and development programs. The lessons learned from international cooperation during ISS construction and operations, can be improved upon and extended to human missions to the Moon, Mars and elsewhere.
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Published - July 2009