Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Our space accomplishments are a source of pride as well as the catalyst for rich benefits, both tangible and intangible. The nation and the world shared in the wonder of exploration beyond the skies. Knowledge and technology have grown enormously. As a member of the House Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics for 15 years, I believe that returning to the moon with a permanent presence is the right mission for our time.

Formorethanfour decades, NASA has contributed in scientific, technological, international and educational arenas. Efforts to open space, not just observe it, are now needed. While fairly criticized for exaggerating capabilities and underestimatingcosts, NASA can lead in the conquest of the space frontier. The private sector must play an expanded role as well. Entrepreneurs are confidently looking toward space and are anxious for policies that encourage commercial activities and for opportunities in space transportation. Our future activities should be an intelligent combination of focused manned missions, robotic exploration and private-sector initiatives that lead first to the moon and subsequently to further frontiers.

I applaud President Bush for giving the nation and NASA a defining challenge. A clear unifying goal has been the most pressing need in our public-sector space program for many years. We now have the historic opportunitytodospace smarter and to remove barriers to private-sector involvement. NASA, Congress, the private sector and our space allies must work together to sustain life in space and to settle the moon. We can achieve these lofty goals throughasequenceof doable, affordable steps coupled with symbiotic commercial innovation.

Our space program must be restructured to support the focus on a permanent lunar presence. First, the current capabilities must develop enabling technologies for the lunar goal. Second, new capabilities must be created to facilitate manned and robotic lunar activities for direct near- and long-term societal payoffs. Third, commercial capabilities must be promoted with positive policies, such as my Zero Gravity/Zero Tax proposal and with NASA use of private space transportation.

President Bush correctly wants space exploration “to learn the potential of vast new territory and to chart the way for others to follow.” This new vision for space will maintain our national standing and leadership in science and engineering. We cannot afford indecision and foot-dragging. The rest of the world will not wait if we fail to act. China, in particular, seems to recognize the value of manned space flight. The potential for inspiring a new generation of American scientists and engineers is enormous. A return to the moon can help drive our efforts for a technically literate society.

Finally, the profitability of a lunar presence must be understood. The moon is the appropriate staging site for future space explorationandnear-Earth space activity. It is an easier launch platform than Earth and is a source of raw materials. Due to the lower gravity, the cost of space flights originating on the moon is significantly less than for Earth. Much of the hardware for living on the moon and for the exploration can be made from raw materials mined from the moon itself.

The moon is a resource for both space and earth science. Moon-based telescopes would be superior to current instruments and could be easily serviced from a moon base. They avoid the limitations of looking through an atmosphere and, if located inside a polar crater such as the South Pole’s Shackleton crater, avoid temperature gradients from sun exposure. The potential supply of the rare Helium-3 on the moon may lead to new power technologies on Earth, and a low-gravity laboratory can lead to manufacturing developments.

The moon also can serve as an efficient solar energy collector. For instance, a solar power facility located at the heights of the South Pole would have nearly continuous generation capability. This renewable, safe energy can be beamed to Earth and power lunar activities. Lunar solar power may be the solution to growing energy needs and pollution concerns. Also, space entrepreneurs wanttobuildaspace tourism capability, to innovate with commercial spinoff technologies and to supply affordable alternatives for space transportation. Imagine the attraction of tourists flying in the low gravity of the moon. These enterprises are just the beginning.

America is posed to explore and to exploit the space frontier in the spirit of Lewis and Clark and the Wright brothers. Our national prestige and technical excellence are tied to sustained activities in this exciting arena. American supremacy in space is our aim in this second century of flight. Free peoples and Western civilization should be at the forefront as the explorers and colonizers of space.

Our president has led the way to energize a whole generation about space. A lunarbase,developed through manned and robotic missions, will have rich payoffs to our investment and is doable now. Private enterprise is a key component to making the effort affordable and to bringing the benefits home. We can choose to live in historic times and to create a better future for the next generation.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, is chairman of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science Committee.

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