NASA is looking for input on human exploration goals

NASA is collecting informal public feedback on a list of 50 exploration objectives that will be incorporated into a larger effort to direct the agency’s activities within the next two decades, according to agency officials.

NASA issued a set of high-level goals for its lunar and Mars exploration campaigns on May 17. The agency also stated that it will be accepting feedback on those goals through its website through May 31.

Lunar and Martian infrastructure, Transportation and habitation, operations, and science are among the 50 objectives, each of which is only a line long. “Develop and demonstrate EDL (entry, descent, and landing) systems capable of transferring crew and significant cargo to the Martian surface,” for example.

For this project, NASA is not using a traditional RFI (request for information) approach, instead opting for “stakeholder worships.” One will feature the domestic sector and academia in June, while the other will feature international organizations in July.

In a May 17 address at the Humans to Mars Summit, Pam Melroy, who is the NASA Deputy Administrator, stated of those goals, “They’re going to serve for us as the signposts within next two decades as the many programs, projects, and technologies evolve, come online, and operate together.  They’ll make sure that everything we’re doing is connected and that we’re aiming for Mars.”

She also stated that the input on the objectives is unrelated to a procurement activity, resulting in the lack of a formal RFI. “It’s really about coming to an agreement on what we require to demonstrate, develop, and achieve,” she said.

The list of objectives came as a surprise to many who are in the space community, but it is part of a bigger effort within NASA to build a long-term plan for human space exploration as the option to the “roller-coaster ride” of changing goals and tactics that began with the Space Exploration Initiative in the year 1989, according to Kurt (Spuds) Vogel, NASA’s space architectures director, in a 35-minute video released May 17.

NASA, he stated, wants to move away from a “capabilities-based approach” that has been in place for over a decade, in which advancements are based on available resources. “That can be a good approach,” he said, “but it won’t be moving out with intent and won’t totally support a long-term strategy.” Instead, the agency wants to adopt a goal-oriented approach.

He claims that the ultimate goal is to develop a blueprint for long-term human habitation and exploration across the solar system. The 50 objectives help to achieve the goal of supporting human quests to the moon and the first human missions to Mars.

The input on the objectives will help to refine them and assist in a gap analysis in which they will be compared to other programs. “The truth is that there will be some disconnects,” he said, citing objectives that are not supported by current efforts. “In that case, we must get started.”

He also mentioned the case of efforts that don’t appear to assist any goals. “Is that an effort we shouldn’t be making or is that an effort we should be making, but not for this program?” he wondered. “Or are we missing a goal?” He said the gap analysis would happen later this year after the exploration architecture had been fine-tuned.

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