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17 November 2008

Harrison H. Schmitt leaves NAC and The Planetary Society

Beyond the Moon: A New Roadmap for Human Space Exploration. The Planetary Society's new approach to space exploration in the future. And the reason for Harrison H. Schmitt's leaving his post as Chairman of the NASA Advisory Council and the withdrawal of his support for The Planetary Society.

With Beyond the Moon, The Planetary Society has stated these goals:

  • Focusing on Mars as the driving goal of human spaceflight
  • Deferring humans landing on the Moon until the costs of the interplanetary transportation system and shuttle replacement are largely paid
  • Accelerating research into global climate change through more comprehensive Earth observations
  • Achieving a step-by-step approach of new achievements in interplanetary flight, including a human mission to a near-Earth object
Most notable is a de-emphasis on returning to the Moon and the emphasis on Mars as the eventual target of the space program. You can download the entire report from the Planetary Society's website as a 2.9 MB pdf.

This is Schmitt's email to the Planetary Society:

From: Harrison H. Schmitt
Cc: [multiple members of the media]
Sent: Fri Nov 14 14:18:13 2008
Subject: Resignation from Society

Dear Lou, Jim and Scott

I am sorry, but I can no longer support the society in its goals as they seem to have gone back to being more political than rational. I want humankind on Mars more than most, but I, at least, feel obligated to look at this goal rationally. Specifically, relative to your bullet points:

TPS Statement * focusing on Mars as the driving goal of human spaceflight

---Having been deeply involved in this issue for many years, and having led several objective studies related to it, it is clear to me, and many other knowledgeable people, that returning to the Moon is the fastest and most cost effective path to Mars for the following reasons:

1. We need generations of engineers to relearn how to operate in deep space at and for long durations on a location that is more accessible than a trajectory to Mars or on Mars itself.

2. We have no clear technology approach for landing large payloads (40MT+) on Mars. Developing entry, descent and landing (EDL) concepts and testing those concepts in the Earth's upper atmosphere will be a major program in and of itself with uncertain cost and duration.

3. Knowing whether 1/6th g triggers human re-adaptation from the adverse consequences of 0g is critical to the design and mass of both Mars transportation systems and Mars surface operations.

4. Many concepts that will be required for operations on Mars need testing in a real-world deep space environment before committing to using those concepts in Mars exploration, including autonomous crew operations during entry, decent, landing and real-time exploration without communications support from Earth.

5. We need a heavy lift launch infrastructure that can support the assembly of large interplanetary spacecraft in Earth orbit, and the requirements to return to the Moon support the development of that infrastructure.

6. We need to develop an interplanetary propulsion system that allows continuous acceleration and deceleration so the travel time to Mars can be cut significantly. That also constitutes a program of uncertain duration and cost.

7. Depending on future understanding of several unknowns already mentioned above, access to lunar-derived consumables after leaving Earth-orbit may be necessary to reduce the launch mass of an interplanetary spacecraft to a feasible amount.

8. We need to certify sample collection and protection protocols on the Moon with exposure to lunar dust and polar volatiles as surrogates for micro-organisms or the planetary protection lobby will make sample return from Mars impossible.

9. We need to use robotic drilling and definitive testing on Mars to penetrate what is probably the only potential biogenesis and evolutionary environment on Mars that has been stable for >3.8 billion years, namely, the cryosphere-hydrosphere interface below the surface.

10. Extremely strong scientific reasons for further lunar exploration exist as have been documented by a large fraction of the lunar and planetary research community at the NASA Advisory Council's 2007 Tempe Workshop and by the National Research Council's recent study.

11. Returning to the Moon has a far better chance of sustained political support than does a far, far more costly, start from scratch Mars program.

Absent sustained and increased budgetary support for the Vision for Space Exploration by the incoming Administration and Congress, any deep space initiative will be in doubt.

12. Finally, becoming a deep space-faring nation again constitutes a mult-generational endeavor, particularly if Mars is in the mix. Unfortunately, the government-run, politicized K-12 school system will not currently support such an endeavor. It has totally failed several generations of young people, not just in STEM subjects but in history, language and economics. This problem has to be solve first. The people requirements for a return to the Moon should help jump start that process, although it will take a much more grassroots effort to be successful.

TPS Statement * deferring humans landing on the Moon until the costs of the interplanetary transportation system and shuttle replacement are largely paid

---This strategy would leave deep space activities, exploration and resources to others, i.e., China, India, maybe Russia, for the indefinite future. I believe that would be major step in initiating the decline of America's global influence for freedom and the improvement the human condition. Although I wrote the book "Return to the Moon" as an illustration of how it makes financial and national sense for private investors to provide the Earth with the benefits of lunar helium-3 fusion power, having NASA develop the initial Earth-Moon infrastructure may hasten the time when that alternative to fossil fuels and non-economic other alternatives becomes available.

TPS Statement * accelerating research into global climate change through more comprehensive Earth observations

---As a geologist, I love Earth observations. But, it is ridiculous to tie this objective to a "consensus" that humans are causing global warming in when human experience, geologic data and history, and current cooling can argue otherwise. "Consensus", as many have said, merely represents the absence of definitive science. You know as well as I, the "global warming scare" is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision making. It has no place in the Society's activities.

TPS Statement * achieving a step-by-step approach of new achievements in interplanetary flight, including a human mission to a near-Earth object

---Returning to the Moon achieves "step-by-step approach of new achievements in interplanetary flight" far better than not doing so, as I have indicated in my list above. Not going by way of the Moon will make the Mars objective far more difficult and more costly to achieve.

---Also, returning to the Moon enables a mission to a near-Earth object if such a mission can be justified scientifically, operationally, or resource-wise. I remain a skeptic on all three but am willing to debate the point.

---Returning to the Moon further enables, in a much more timely fashion and would a Mars initiative, the capability to do something about diverting an asteroid on a collision course with the Earth. We had this capability once, but lost it when the Saturn V assembly line was shut down in the early 1970s.

TPS Statement "In short, the Roadmap calls for "A new and flexible program, based on a series of important first-time achievements and an international commitment to exploration and discovery." International cooperation is strongly recommended both to reduce costs for any one nation and to increase public interest and support."

---I see that the Society has gone back to its roots on "international cooperation." If that phrase means "international management" of the critical path items in a Mars Program, then you clearly do not want to go to Mars. Nothing will prevent success with more certainty than to try this. The rest of the world will want a "one-nation, one vote" management regime for which history shows only a record of abject failure.

Many of the Society's members are good friends, but I just cannot support you in this effort.

Best regards, Jack

Draw your conclusions.

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