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Science and the Constellation Systems Program Office

By Wendell Mendell


An underlying tension has existed throughout the history of NASA between the human spaceflight programs and the external scientific constituencies of the robotic exploration programs. The large human space projects have been perceived as squandering resources that might otherwise be utilized for scientific discoveries. In particular, the history of the relationship of science to the International Space Station Program has not been a happy one. The leadership of the Constellation Program Office, created in NASA in October, 2005, asked me to serve on the Program Manager s staff as a liaison to the science community. Through the creation of my position, the Program Manager wanted to communicate and elucidate decisions inside the program to the scientific community and, conversely, ensure that the community had a voice at the highest levels within the program. Almost all of my technical contributions at NASA, dating back to the Apollo Program, has been within the auspices of what is now known as the Science Mission Directorate. However, working at the Johnson Space Center, where human spaceflight is the principal activity, has given me a good deal of incidental contact and some more direct exposure through management positions to the structures and culture of human spaceflight programs. I entered the Constellation family somewhat naive but not uninformed. In addition to my background in NASA science, I have also written extensively over the past 25 years on the topic of human exploration of the Moon and Mars. (See, for example, Mendell, 1985). I have found that my scientific colleagues generally have little understanding of the structure and processes of a NASA program office; and many of them do not recognize the name, Constellation. In many respects, the international ILEWG community is better informed. Nevertheless, some NASA decision processes on the role of science, particularly with respect to the formulation of a lunar surface architecture, are not well known, even in ILEWG. At the recent annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, I reviewed the evolution of the program as a function of Agency leadership and the constraints put on NASA by the President in his 2004 announcement. I plan to continue my long-time ILEWG tradition of reporting a personal view of the state of development of human exploration of the solar system, this time coming from within the program office tasked to implement the vision for the United States. The current NASA implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration is consistent with certain classical scenarios that have been discussed extensively in the literature. I will discuss the role of science within the Vision, both from official policy and from a de facto interaction. While science goals are not officially driving the implementation of the Vision, the tools of scientific exploration are integral to defining the extraterrestrial design environments. In this respect the sharing of results from international missions to the Moon can make significant contributions to the success of the future human activities

Topics: Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Year: 2007
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