Space Exploration to Help U.S. Remain World Leader

Article excerpt

Space exploration will help the United States to remain economically competitive and maintain world leadership, according to Thomas P. Stafford, the former astronaut from Weatherford.

But to do this, America needs the "best trained and best educated workforce, the most advanced technology and the strongest leadership," Stafford says.

Space exploration will excite young minds and get students more interested in science and mathematics, subjects no longer dominated by American students, he said.

Writing in the foreward to "America at the Threshold. . .America's Space Exploration Initiative," Stafford, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general and an experienced space traveler in the Gemini and Apollo programs, said there are times when seemingly small decisions make great changes.

"Now is such a time," he wrote. "The decisions we make now for space will set the nation's course for decades, if not centuries to come. The legacy we leave to future generations may well be decided in these next few years.

"Space is clearly our most challenging frontier. Enroute to Mars, we will explore the Moon, advance Earth sciences and develop new, innovative technologies. We will tap into lunar, Martian and solar energy resources as we explore the heights of human talent and ability.

"Along the way, America's drive, initiative, ingenuity and technology _ all those things that have made our nation the most successful society on Earth _ will propel us toward a future of peace, strength and prosperity.

The challenge is before us." But before space exploration and commercialization can begin, there must be "routine, reliable and affordable access to space," the report said.

President George Bush, speaking on the 20th anniversary of the first manned Moon landing, called for such exploration, first a return to the Moon and exploration of Mars by 2019, the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing.

Shortly after this call, Vice President Dan Quayle called upon Stafford to put together a study group to outline how this would be done.

The Synthesis Group, composed of senior leaders of military and civilian governmental agencies, academia and industry, is the result. Its report provides "this generation a robust, safe and affordable future in space while ensuring the greatest benefit for mankind on Earth," Stafford wrote to Quayle.

The report, compiled by Synthesis Group, sets out six "visions" of space travel, several architectures or exploration programs, and makes 10 recommendations for achieving the goal of manned exploration of Mars by 2019.

It also called upon the President to sign an executive order establishing a special space exploration program office which would oversee all development, coordination of governmental agencies involved and procurement of materials. It also would establish procedures for awarding contracts for hardware acquisition.

"Visions for America," as set out in the report are:

Knowledge of our universe _ We strive to understand the origin and history of our Solar System, the origin of life and the ultimate fate of our universe. People are the best explorers, but they often need machines to help. The Space Exploration Initiative is an integrated program of missions by humans and robots to explore, to understand and to gain knowledge of the universe and our place in it.

Advancement in science and engineering _ Returning to the Moon, and onward to Mars, will require the best engineering and scientific talent our nation can muster. Through a long-range commitment to space, we will stimulate our national education system and inspire students to learn. …