Los Angeles, December 12, 2003 – The Space Frontier Foundation upped the ante today on possible plans for a U.S. return to the Moon. The group strongly supports a rumored Presidential mandate that includes establishing a permanent base on the Moon, but wants a short timeline, a clear goal and a tight budget to force NASA to re-organize itself, bring in other parts of government, and most importantly – incorporate the private sector as a major partner if it is to succeed.
“We applaud the White House for even considering a new space agenda that includes a permanent base on the Moon. It is a great way to re-structure our space program,” stated Foundation Founder Rick Tumlinson. “NASA today is like an old ex-athlete who won the Olympics a long time ago. It is bloated, inflexible, self-indulgent, and lives on re-runs of its better days.” He continued, “we can let it slowly die, or we can trim the fat and get it into shape by making it get out of the doorway to space, back into the arena, and forcing it to run again – this time with a team-mate called private enterprise – to whom it must learn to hand the baton – at the right moment.
The Foundation believes a return to the Moon is important for many reasons, including science, astronomy, driving new technologies, developing new energy sources, learning how to live on other worlds such as Mars, and inspiring a new generation of young scientists and engineers. But the group wants major changes at NASA, with a new culture that is exploration focused, and able to join with other agencies and the private sector as equal partners. They see the government role on the Moon as supporting science, learning how to best explore Mars, and catalyzing the development of profitable Lunar enterprises and transportation systems using its purchasing power.
“If the U.S. doesn’t focus on growing a thriving, value producing private sector economy between the Earth and Moon as it moves on to Mars, we will fail. The taxpayers will not, and should not, be asked to support another multi-billion dollar dead-end housing project in space,” said Manny Pimenta, manager of the Foundation’s Return to the Moon Project. “NASA’s job is not to build and manage buildings, be they laboratories or hotels, nor drive the trucks and buses that carry people and materials to and from space. The private sector can do both, more efficiently, and economically than NASA, whose job is exploration.”
The Foundation gives two examples of such a partnership. It believes government should cancel plans for new space vehicles to carry people and payloads from the Earth to space, and instead buy its rides from a new generation of U.S. space firms, thus helping foster a new space transportation industry. Meanwhile, NASA can concentrate on in-space transportation, which offers little near term profit potential but is critical to any humans-to-Mars efforts in the future. It also wants to see any Lunar facilities designed with low cost operations and maintenance in mind, and to have the base managed by Public-Private Authority that can take over as NASA moves on to Mars.
Tumlinson gave another example of this new approach: “The U.S. government should say: ‘we need a habitat that will house ten people, provides them with clean water, food, sanitation and entertainment, is designed to last a long time and be expandable.’ Then let U.S. companies come up with solutions-and the government signs a lease.” He concluded: “The government does this all the time on Earth, and later often hands the facilities off to the private sector to convert into industrial parks and other uses. If it works on Earth, it can work on the Moon.”