Reflecting a continuing discontent over NASA space exploration policy, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the space agency’s funding, called for a return to the moon at an address at the Space Policy Institute in Washington Monday. He decried the current plan to snag an asteroid and bring it into low Earth orbit to be visited by astronauts. He suggested that President Obama is losing American leadership in space.
Wolf’s argument for a return to the moon is divided into three parts. First he believes that a lunar surface mission, which can be accomplished in the near term, would help to restore the confidence of America’s international partners in the commitment of the United States to exploring space. Second he believes that it would serve as a source of inspiration for the American people and capture the nation’s interest. Finally he asserted that lunar surface operations would serve as a practice run for an eventual expedition to Mars.
Wolf also suggested that the asteroid retrieval mission (ARM) is a non-starter with Congress and that the next administration is likely to cancel it. He stated that it was derived from a throw-away line in President Obama’s now infamous speech at the Kennedy Space Center given on April 15, 2010. He also said that the project has very little support, even within NASA.
Wolf concluded by suggesting that not only is American leadership in space in the balance, but the status of the United States as a world power. He sees a challenge to that leadership, particularly from China, that, if left unanswered, would bode ill for the United States. However, despite the vagaries of budget politics that he says is preventing him from adequately funding NASA and a lack of presidential leadership, Wolf expressed some optimism that things can be turned around, given strong congressional leadership.