Former astronaut says accessing space resources is essential to NASA’s future

By Jeff Foust on 2012 December 16 at 12:17 pm ET

The last few weeks have seen a variety of views about the future of NASA, in particular its human spaceflight programs. There is little consensus in these opinions, beyond a belief that the agency’s current direction, in particular the goal laid out by President Obama of a human mission to a near Earth asteroid by 2025, is somehow unsatisfactory. That was a particular point of emphasis in the National Research Council’s recent report on NASA’s strategic direction. “Despite isolated pockets of support for a human asteroid mission, the committee did not detect broad support for an asteroid mission inside NASA, in the nation as a whole, or from the international community,” the report stated.

Another voice joining this chorus also sees issues with NASA’s asteroid mission plans, but has a different alternative in mind. “I’m excited about that because I’m a planetary scientist who loves asteroids,” said former astronaut Tom Jones of those current plans during a talk on Monday at the National Air and Space Museum, part of an ongoing series called the Space Policy and History Forum. He said, though, that those current plans appeared to be just a “default” position by the administration when it rejected previous plans for a human return to the Moon. “Today, in 2012, we’re not making very rapid progress to get people to an asteroid. The Space Launch System and Orion are not maturing rapidly enough to start missions to asteroids in 2025. So, maybe, five years after that we’ll do the first one.”

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