Buzz Aldrin among panelists at Space Center

DOWNEY - Monday's gathering at the Columbia Space Learning Center of American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) panelists representing different professional engineering/science-oriented groups but which have somehow cast their lot in a common cause-U.S. human space exploration-was anything but dull.The National Space Society's Mark Hopkins, at one time ostensibly with the Rand Corporation, and Boeing's Dean Davis, who acted as panel chairman, both spoke of the huge resource potential of space ("potentially very rich for humans"), exploration as a prelude to economic development, the technological innovation this will demand, and the likely stance Congress usually takes when weighing such weighty matters: how to maximize their chances for re-election ("A program involving such things should be politically saleable"). In the panel also were Jeff Greason, member of the Augustine Commission and president and co-founder of XCOR Aerospace, and Robert Zubrin, president and founder of the Mars Society and Pioneer Astronautics, and an author as well. Completing the high-caliber panel of doctorate-degreed speakers was Buzz Aldrin, who was the featured panelist and practically needs no introduction. Also slated to talk but unable to make it were Rep. Jane Harman and other elected officials, as well as representatives from Scaled Composites and SpaceX. The audience included professors, executives, engineers and scientists, sundry officials and interested students. Colin McCaughey, programs co-chair of AIAA's Los Angeles Section and hence of the panel discussion, provides this synopsis: All panelists agreed that NASA should not be used as a vehicle to preserve jobs (Space Coast-Florida as well as a few Alabama congressional representatives are the natural advocates of this). Greason made the point, concurred in by his colleagues, that there is not a business case for exploration beyond low orbit; no company will fund this sort of exploration/research, thus the onus will be on the government (NASA) to do this. The panel's most notable point of disagreement [among many] was on destination. Zubrin wants NASA to aggressively pursue a strategy to send humans to Mars; Greason thinks that, given the budget NASA is likely to get, it should focus on more realistic targets, perhaps landing on asteroids in early stages; Aldrin, stressing looking at the "big picture," argued for a specialized destination aircraft redesign by NASA rather than what is purportedly on its drawing boards right now. The discussion also noted that if the government were to fund a new heavy lift (HL) vehicle, private industry is on record as ready to provide them for a fixed price ("There is no need for NASA Huntsville to have a 'bunch of engineers funded for x number of years' to procure this hardware"). Bottom line: for all the sometimes esoteric technical talk, the Center was complimented as a superb venue for such exchanges, and that other groups have expressed interest in holding their future conferences there. The Center's Kaili Rowland said Monday's panel discussion was a proud moment for the Center.

********** Published: August 26, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 19