Credit: NASA Ames Research Center Flickr

Well this is a change as both the Senate and House approved a bill that authorizes a whopping $19.508 billion in spending for NASA in 2017, a $208 million increase from 2016. The 146-page bill is jam packed with mandates for the space agency to position the US as “a thriving space economy in the 21st century.” Most notably, it demands that NASA gets humans “near or on the surface of Mars in the 2030s.

Earlier this month, Howard Bloom of the National Space Society put forth a lofty proposal: “NASA needs to get out of the rocket business and shift its attention to a permanent space transport infrastructure, an Eisenhower-style highway in the sky.” Bloom envisions an extravagant system, complete with gas stations, rest stops, permanent housing, vegetable gardens, and equipment that could transform the water of the Moon and Mars into rocket fuel, breathable oxygen, and drinkable water.

So why go to such lengths? Because no one else will, Bloom argues. In fact, he believes our future in space depends on it. NASA could transform journeys to space with a highway like this—and the new space industry could actually allow for it.

The space industry has changed dramatically since NASA was landing men on the moon. At that time, rockets were only really being made by governments, today they are being democratized. States like China, Japan, Iran, India, and Israel can afford them. More importantly, private companies and visionary billionaires have started investing in the rocket business.

Elon Musk of SpaceX and Jeff Bezos of with Blue Origin have essentially started a rocket revolution. Rather than building expensive rockets for one-time use, they are working on space transport that can go on an expedition, return to Earth to be refueled, and sent back out. Musk has already sent rockets into space carrying satellites to orbit and has landed those rockets in one piece for reuse six times. Jeff Bezos is even further along—he has launched a single rocket to the edge of space four times, landed that rocket on its landing pad, refueled it and flown the same machine once again. Experts believe that by the end of this year, both men will have accomplished what The Space Development Steering Committee calls “the Reusability Revolution.”

Bloom argues that if NASA shifts its attention and resources away from rockets and toward a space transport infrastructure, we will be remarkably ahead. While Musk and Bezos have the lead on rocket development, neither has announced the development of a system that would allow their rockets to make space transport a regular occurrence. Neither has revealed plans for permanent fuel stations, rest stops, and high-tech machinery to harness space’s resources.

What do you think? Do you agree with Bloom’s proposal? Could this be a win-win for all of us?

Source: Scientific American