Space exploration
Our space program has achieved many major milestones over the last 50 years. We have safely landed men on the moon, placed the Hubble telescope in orbit, developed the space shuttle, helped construct the international space station, landed the Curiosity rover on Mars and sent robotic spacecraft to the far reaches of our solar system and beyond. However, with the retirement of our space shuttle fleet, we are now forced to rent seats on Russian rockets in order to access outer space. Many Americans wish to continue our leading role as space pioneers. Some support sending astronauts back to the moon to establish a semi-permanent base for future manned missions to Mars and other destinations. Our next generation of spacecraft, called the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, is somewhat similar in design to our Apollo-era spacecraft. The deep-space capable Orion consists of a cargo launch vehicle and a crew exploration vehicle. It will accommodate 4 to 6 crewmembers and, like Apollo, Orion will reenter Earth’s atmosphere using parachutes and a heat shield. Orion's first manned test flight is scheduled for 2023. Ultimately, a modified version of the Orion spacecraft is expected to take astronauts to the moon in the mid ‘20s and perhaps to Mars soon after. Analysts estimate the cost of building these vehicles and constructing a lunar base to be at least $120 billion. Critics say the money used for these projects could be better spent here on Earth.

Some scientists have questioned the need for a lunar base and the wisdom of manned deep-space exploration. They say many obstacles must first be overcome before subjecting humans to prolonged space travel in microgravity environments. These obstacles include bone-density loss, sleep problems, radiation exposure and psychological adjustment issues. The damage from micro-meteors traveling at thousands of miles per hour and impacting a spacecraft has also not been addressed. Space travel supporters claim a lunar way-station used as a fuel depot and manufacturing site to stage longer missions, makes sense. They claim it would further our knowledge of the long-term effects of low gravity and space radiation on human physiology. They also say the moon’s water resources will facilitate this effort. Opponents argue that manned space exploration is not worth the risk to human life when robotic missions can accomplish more and at a much lower cost. NASA is now operating more than 50 robotic spacecraft that are studying Earth and our solar system, with another 40 unmanned missions in development. Manned-flight supporters claim the problem with robotic machines is that they will only do what they are programmed to do and can only detect the expected. They say robots cannot be programmed to detect the unimaginable, the unknown, or the strange non-carbon life that may someday be encountered.

Pending Legislation:
H.R.1508 - Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015
H.R.2036 - REAL Space Act

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Poll Opening Date
February 13, 2020
Poll Closing Date
February 19, 2020

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