America should already have a space station in Earth orbit, America should already have a base on the moon, America should already have a space station in lunar orbit, America should have already sent a manned mission to Mars.
America needs a new fleet of space shuttles - a fleet, not just a handful like we had with our previous program.
This fleet should be used to establish space stations in Earth orbit and in lunar orbit. We should also have at least one base on the moon.
Manned exploration should already be occurring in the farthest reaches of our Solar System. This exploration should be launched from lunar bases and orbiting space stations.
The exploration should consist not just of one spacecraft with a handful of astronauts, but rather, it should consist of an entire group of spacecraft. If we designed one spacecraft to be able to accomodate a crew of thirty for round trip flight time to the destination, plus one year, that would allow adequate time at the destination for scientific exploration and experimentation. Then, instead of placing thirty people on that vessel, we place perhaps twelve, and launch a group of five spacecraft towards the destination. The expedition could suffer the catastrophic loss of over half the force of spacecraft - three ships - and still have enough room and supplies on the remaining two spacecraft to return every member of the expedition to Earth.
This could be designated as one scientific task group. For example, we could send one group to each of Jupiter's major moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, leaving one group doing general studies of the area and coordinating and monitoring the work of the other groups. This would be a scientific task force of twenty-five spacecraft; among those spacecraft would be 300 crewmembers, but there would be room on board those spacecraft for 750 people, so that if multiple emergencies occurred, adequate rescue resources would be immediately available on the scene, rather than months or years away on Earth.
Another advantage to having an expedition of this size is it could include scientists of every field to make observations regarding the atmosphere, the geology, and so on, of the destinations. Astrophysicists who specialize in planetary science would of course play a key role, but astrophysicists and astronomers specializing in stellar, galactic and cosmologic astronomy would have a tremendous opportunity to make observations from what we might hope would turn out to be a significantly different vantage point than has heretofore been achieved.
Why should we limit ourselves to one such task force in space at a time? Another could be sent to Saturn and its moon Titan, and yet another to Mars. Depending on the scientific objectives and the objects of interest, some task forces could be larger or smaller than others.
Needless to say, we are speaking of having an entire fleet of spacecraft, and literally hundreds of people on exploration missions on board dozens of craft heading to several different destinations at any given moment. We would also need the personnel to man the space stations in Earth and lunar orbit, and the bases on the moon. And, would we not want to establish a base on Mars and a space station in Martian orbit?
Such programs would be logical but dramatic extensions of NASA's ongoing programs. Currently, there is a polemic regarding use of the SLS, and questions regarding whether the SLS is non-competitive, using current shuttle suppliers. Frankly, with the requirements that would be generated by the programs described above, the entire polemic would be blown out of the sky; the entire American aerospace industry would be working as hard as possible for years to build the space shuttles, heavy lift launch systems, and modular components for orbiting space stations and lunar and martian bases. Beyond that, the deep space exploration craft, a large number of which would need to be deployed for the missions described above, would have to be built; they may have to be prefabricated on Earth for assembly in orbit.
Implicit in this idea is the notion of having literally thousands of people trained for duties in space. This means we would need a dramatically expanded training program for those serving in space.
The United States currently has six service academies: in alphabetical order, these are 1) the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado; 2) the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut; 3) the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York; 4) the Military Academy in West Point, New York; 5) the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; and 6) the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. The first five are undergraduate academies, and the last one is a postgraduate academy.
We need a seventh service academy, specifically for space service; I will refer to it as the Space Service Academy.
Physically, I would envision the Space Service Academy having a main location in a western state, with a large airbase essentially co-located with it. These facilities should be purpose-built. The Space Service Academy should also have ancillary facilities located at geographically separate locations for purposes, some of which will be described below.
Academically, I would envision the Space Service Academy having an extended program, perhaps six years of academics. Upon graduation, officers would have bachelors' degrees with at least a dual major in technical fields - for example, astrophysics and aerospace engineering, or computer engineering and mathematics, or meteorology and planetary science. The program should be tailorable, so officers can graduate with a master's degree, and there should be options for additional studies to yield a doctorate.
During their time at the Space Service Academy, the personnel studying there should be able to coordinate their graduation requirements with those of the other service academies so that, upon graduation, they receive a commission valid for one of the branches of service. For example, by choosing one set of options, a graduate will receive a commission in the Air Force, by choosing another set of options, the Coast Guard, and so on. Consequently, I will now refer to the personnel studying at the Space Service Academy as cadets or midshipmen.
Since cadets and midshipmen of the Space Service Academy are being trained for space exploration, their training needs to be very rigorous. It should include aircrew training, so graduating officers are qualified pilots or navigators. It should also include advanced survival training; during six years, a cadet or midshipman should attend basic survival school, taught at the Space Service Academy's main facility, and should be rotated through ancillary facilities to learn Arctic survival in Alaska, water survival (perhaps in Florida), as well as desert and jungle survival. Martial arts training should be required; judo or taekwondo could be offered, as well as the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.
The rationale behind this kind of survival and martial arts training is that the Space Service Academy trains officers for space exploration, during the course of which an emergency could result in the officer landing literally anywhere on Earth and being at least temporarily in a survival situation; furthermore, given the fact that there has been war ongoing somewhere on the Earth's surface continually for the past several decades, the officer could find her- or himself thrust into a combat survival situation under extremely harsh conditions.
Other military training should be coordinated with the military services, and should include airborne, ranger, advanced firearms and firearms instructor training.
Additionally, language training should be included. Cadets and midshipmen should be required to learn one foreign language in which a great deal of technical, scientific literature is written, such as Mandarin Chinese, German, Russian, or Japanese, as well as the language of a culture that produces less or no technology-oriented literature, such as Hausa or Dari. The Space Service Academy commandant should be able to write waivers for exceptionally gifted cadets and midshipmen who have a difficult time with languages that are too exotic, modifying but not eliminating the foreign language requirement. This language training requirement needs to be understood in the context that, just as Americans went to the moon in peace on behalf of all humankind, so is our space exploration program a peaceful one on behalf of all humanity, and our Space Service qualified officers, though highly capable military officers ready to defend the ideals upon which America is built, are first and foremost explorers and ambassadors of peace. Language training will serve our Space Service qualified officers on exchange duty with foreign nations, it will serve them as foreign nations send, at our invitation, their own astronauts to participate in our space exploration programs, and it will serve them should they find themselves in survival situations as described above.
Applications to the Space Service Academy should implicitly include applying to the other service academies and to the military ROTC programs. If a qualified candidate is not selected for the Space Service Academy, he or she should be offered a slot in one of the other academies or programs. It follows, then, that the other academies and the ROTC programs would be fertile recruiting ground for the Space Service Academy. Upon graduation, cadets and midshipman are commissioned into one of the branches of service, but with a special designation that they are Space Service qualified. In the absence of specific Space Service missions, these officers could pursue their careers with their respective services, but knowing that they are on call for Space Service.
For people who wish to be Space Service qualified, but who do not wish to serve in a military capacity, alternative training programs could lead to service in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps. Similarly, a comparable program could be established leading to service as Foreign Service Officers. Other federal agencies that would have a need for personnel with scientific and administrative training include the US Forest Service (USFS) and the US Geological Survey (USGS); the USGS, it should be noted, maintains an astrogeology research program. To support these aspects of Space Service training, the Space Service Academy would need to coordinate with the Foreign Service Institute for training of personnel who would serve as Foreign Service Officers while awaiting their opportunities to serve in space, and a Public Service Institute or Public Service Academy could be established to provide training for Public Service Officers, who could work with USFS, USGS, National Weather Service, and other federal agencies while awaiting their opportunities.
With a projected need for dozens of spacecraft, either on exploration missions or held in Earth or lunar orbits, plus space stations in Earth and lunar orbits, plus bases on the moon, plus bases on and stations in orbit above Mars, it should be a reasonable guarantee that a Space Service Academy graduate will, during the course of twenty years of government service, get into space at least once, even if only in Earth orbit. Realistically, Space Service qualified officers could expect to serve at least one tour of duty on a space station or extraterrestrial planetary/lunar base, and one tour of duty on a deep space exploration mission, according to aptitude and desire.
Because of the extreme likelihood of serving in space, the program will likely be highly competitive, because young people will want to go to space.
The Space Service Academy should be a center of excellence, having facilities for scientific research, including its own nuclear reactor and nuclear collider.
Once accepted to attend the Space Service Academy, cadets and midshipmen should be issued all necessary uniform items and necessities, as well as receiving pay and full benefits such as Department of Defense healthcare, in a manner similar to that in which cadets and midshipmen are treated in the other service academies.
The program should be merit-based. There should be tolerated absolutely no political agenda requiring quotas based on skin color, ethnicity, or any other irrelevant criteria. Admission to the Space Service Academy should boil down to academic performance, scores on standardized tests, physical fitness and health, interview results, letters of recommendation and nomination, and assessments of future aptitude. Every effort should be made to ensure the success of any accepted cadet or midshipman; cadets and midshipmen whose performance does not meet expectations should be removed from the Space Service Academy and sent to other programs, or for enlisted service in an appropriate branch of the armed forces.
As this program is described, once the Space Service Academy is established by law, it can begin operations immediately, recruiting from the other service academies and officer training programs, working in temporary facilities, and coordinating with NASA, the armed forces and their service academies, and various elements of the aerospace industry for specific aspects of the training program.
The goal of attending a service academy and getting an excellent scientific education, paid for by the United States of America and at no cost to the attendee, with the added benefit of offering experience and an expectation of participating in space exploration - credentials that will open doors to the very best opportunites that business, government and academia have to offer - should be widely advertised to young Americans beginning in elementary school, so they will focus on academics beginning at an early age.
These Americans who travel into space will, as their predecessors have done, discover new solutions to problems that we have here on Earth, and bring those solutions back, making life here better; they will inspire us and offer us hope for a better future.
Let's rejuvenate the promise of America as a beacon of hope for all humanity for all time. The sky's the limit!