31 October 1997
CONTACT: Karen Rugg, 202-543-1900
(October 31, 1997) -- Washington, DC -- On Wednesday, October 29, over 70 scientists, visionaries, students, aerospace industry representatives, and members of the media and the public gathered at a National Space Society conference in Washington to light a fire under the debate on America's exploration goals for the 21st century. Throughout the day, attendees of the "Space Summit: Building the Bridge to the 21st Century" event took notes, asked questions, gathered in hallways to share ideas and even donned 3D glasses to view 3D Martian slides and a giant wall poster.
In opening remarks, Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT), a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, emphasized the need to formulate an extended vision for America's space program. "Where do we want to be in 20 years?" he asked. Even after defining that vision, the former Marine, broadcaster and auctioneer from Montana stated the biggest challenge would be to "communicate what that vision is and 'sell' it to the American public."
"What became obvious during the summit was that an incredible number of things are happening in connection with space," said Pat Dasch, acting executive director of the National Space Society. "Mars Pathfinder, Global Surveyor, Lunar Prospector, a new NASA Exploration office, the Mars meteorite, human spaceflight research programs, human factors in Mars mission design -- several years ago we wouldn't have assembled such a diverse program."
During the summit's concluding debate exploring the question of Moon vs. Mars exploration, some experts suggested the nation's next step should be to return to the Moon as a means to prepare for a human Mars mission. A return to the Moon, they argued, would help to validate hardware and gain operational experience. Other experts countered that lunar missions represent an unnecessary and costly detour that will consume limited resources, and that reaching directly to Mars is the best strategy to pursue.
"What we need is a long-term vision for our nation's space program," said Ms. Dasch. Congress needs to participate in that debate -- hold hearings, examine the issues, involve the public. We cannot afford to wait until after the International Space Station is completed to decide where and what we do next."
The National Space Society is an independent, nonprofit space advocacy organization with headquarters in Washington, DC. Its 25,000 members and 95 chapters around the world actively promote a spacefaring civilization. For digital images of the conference, visit http://www.nss.org/summit. For a series of reports on conference presentations, visit NSS's Space Exploration Online at America Online, keyword "space."