NASA celebrates space flight at GW

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, joined about a dozen NASA officials and analysts to discuss travel to Mars and NASA’s future Tuesday at a daylong GW Space Policy Institute symposium in the Marvin Center.

The symposium included panel discussions with astronauts, historians and space analysts in the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first American space flight by Alan Shepard.

Daniel Goldin, NASA administrator since 1992 described NASA’s plan for a manned mission to Mars in 10 to 20 years. He said NASA is planning additional landers to reach the red planet in 2007 to search for new elements and minerals that could help solve health problems and give insight Earth’s origins.

Aldrin is president of Starcraft Enterprises, an organization that proposes ideas for space travel. He presented a schedule for manned-Mars missions within 20 years and a Starcraft Enterprises model of a reusable spacecraft that could help astronauts reach Mars. Aldrin called on President George W. Bush to present a four-year space initiative by July to outline space exploration goals for his administration.

“Current systems are very expensive,” Aldrin said. “We need to answer the demand for passenger space travel by developing reusable launch vehicles.”

James Garvin, NASA chief scientist for Mars exploration, said humans have not been in deep space in 28 years since Apollo 17, the last trip to the moon, and the agency needs to think “omni-destinational.”

Garvin recommended sending astronauts to the moon and Mars to search for new energy sources on the planet that could alleviate humans’ dependency on natural resources.

William Shephard, the first commander of the International Space Station from October 2000 to March 2001, reminisced about his 141-day stay on the station and proposed ideas for a Mars expedition.

“It’s nice spending days looking at the surface of this beautiful planet,” Shephard said. “But we should spend our time looking at the surface of other planets.”

Shephard said any ambitious future plans, such as a return to the moon or a trip to Mars, should be internationalized.

Goldin, the longest-serving NASA administrator in the agency’s history, cited Alan Shepard’s achievement as the first American in space and declared NASA’s goals for the future.

“We have achieved great progress through enormous sacrifices,” Goldin said. “This civilization is not condemned to live on one planet . in our generation, we will see another planet.”

Goldin said although the agency’s technology has changed, NASA’s curiosity has not wavered. He said he hopes to once again send humans out of Earth’s orbit.

Aldrin and other analysts said a growing bureaucracy and lack of passion have impeded NASA’s recent progress.

“NASA functioned with great speed in its early years,” said Charles Murray, an Apollo expert. “The focus on the job at hand was everything.”

Murray also said the first group of youthful NASA employees had passion for their job.

Garvin said it took the agency only 11 years to land on the moon after
its creation in 1958, but criticized NASA for limiting missions to orbits of the Earth with the space shuttle and the space station for the past three decades. He called NASA a “hostage to time and to limits.”

Shephard said commercialism has a place in space and should replace NASA as the caretaker of the near-Earth orbit. Astronauts should not be limiting themselves to experiments in Earth’s orbit but should be exploring other planets, leading the way out of near-Earth orbit, he said.

Aldrin agreed, advocating an increase in commercial space travel similar to last week’s space station visit by civilian California financier Dennis Tito. He also touted the military value of space and proposed the allocation of additional funds for NASA to establish a permanent space presence.

“(Space) is the most military important high ground,” Aldrin said.

In a separate press conference Tuesday, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced the findings of a Congressional space commission and proposed a National Security Space Program to be headed by a four-star General.

GW Space Policy Institute Director John Logsdon said he was very pleased with the symposium and hopes the University will offer an undergraduate course in space policy in spring 2002.

“I thought the symposium was very well attended and we had a very diverse audience ranging from space pioneers to students,” Logsdon said.

The Space Policy Institute was created in 1987 as a space research and policy center based out of the Elliott School of International Affairs. The institute has hosted six symposiums in the past 10 years, Logsdon said.

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