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JSPES, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Winter 2003 )
pp. 389-422

Some Thoughts on the Columbia Disaster and How to Proceed from Here

Klaus P. Heiss

The Space Shuttle 'Columbia' disaster in February of this year has led to a basic re-examination of the question of human space flight and how best to explore the solar system and worlds beyond. In April of this year NASA presented its Long Term plan for Space Exploration. A close reading of which would have one conclude that NASA was about to abandon Space exploration by humans in preference of robotic missions and in this process also dump the Space Shuttle and initiate a so-called 'Orbital Space Plane' that was but a reusable Apollo type capsule launched on an expendable rocket - a 'vision' soundly rejected in the early 1970s.

Provoked by this 'stealth' termination of Space exploration by humans the author composed the Memorandum published herein, addressed to Vice President Cheney and the White House, in which he argued that not only should the exploration of Space by humans continue, building on the half-completed reusable Space Transportation system (the Space Shuttle of today), but a historic new goal for human Space exploration could be set, to be achieved within a decade and at a cost of less than a doubling of the steadily shrinking NASA budget: the establishment of the first permanent human settlement on the Moon.

The author further suggested that an internal assessment effort of say three to four months would confirm the basic claims made herein and become the basis for a Presidential decision to such effect. Indications are that such a decision is forthcoming - dramatically reversing the course set by the Space bureaucracy a few months ago.