After nearly a year of study and collaboration between the Inspiration Mars Foundation and some of the best and brightest minds in the space industry, the most logical systems architecture for a Mars flyby mission has become crystal clear. It is the deep space exploration system being built for NASA by the most experienced and skilled space manufacturing workforce in the world -- the Space Launch System and Orion crew vehicle. And by logical extension, it is also the right solution for our nation's broader deep space exploration goals.
Short-sighted critics like to call it the "rocket to nowhere," an incredibly uninformed reference that sells short the accomplishments of NASA and industry over a relatively short period of time, and which carelessly dismisses the significant investment and progress already made in "SLS/Orion."
SLS/Orion is much more than a rocket. It is a new generation of space systems by which humans will finally leave our planet's influence for the first time and explore deep space -- indeed, a rocket and space ship to everywhere. Over the past few years, NASA and industry have successfully carried out the Administration's strategy of developing core capabilities for future space exploration -- capabilities that can open space, like never before, to human exploration and discovery.
It is the first system capable of transporting humans and cargo beyond low Earth orbit in over four decades. It is the most powerful system ever built, able to launch larger payloads farther and faster than ever. It is suitable to a wide variety of missions for human exploration, planetary science, astrophysics, heliophysics, planetary defense and commercial enterprise. Destinations made possible include the Moon, Earth-Moon Libration Point 2 (EML2), Mars, Europa and asteroids.
Through the responsible use of resources and industry collaboration, the daunting barriers to deep space exploration are being systematically lowered from the standpoint of safety, efficiency, reliability.
The Space Launch System and Orion are being built by the hands of skilled American workers with the benefit of experience, profoundly more advanced technologies and the use of technologically evolved heritage hardware to provide low-risk, state-of-the-art, efficient, affordable systems.
SLS and Orion give us so much more than technical capabilities. They will allow us to open deep space to all humankind, to expand human knowledge beyond our imagination, extend human experience out into the solar system, forge global partnerships for a better world and inspire humanity to dream of and achieve a better future. To not pursue SLS/Orion is to retreat from U. S. leadership in human space flight and watch China or Russia leave us behind as they and their partners benefit from unlocking the secrets of the solar system.
Right or wrong, the Administration chose not to set an audacious goal for space exploration until the capabilities we needed to undertake such missions were clearly available or within our reach. What we have reached, today, with SLS/Orion is a threshold in human history. The question is, "will we open the door?"
I believe, as do many Americans, that Mars is the logical destination to put human space exploration back on track and demonstrate the "can do" spirit that seems to have faded over time. With SLS/Orion, we are ready to explore once again -- it is incumbent on our nation's leaders to commit to a clear, logical destination and plot a course. Whether or not it is allowed to become a space ship to everywhere is left, now, to Congress and the Administration to determine.
Dennis Tito is executive director of the Inspiration Mars Foundation. He is a former NASA engineer and was the world's first space tourist.