Op-ed: The Deep Space Gateway would shackle human exploration, not enable it

Enlarge / What the Deep Space Gateway might look like based on NASA concept drawings. (credit: NASA)

Editor’s note: NASA’s proposed Deep Space Gateway has been in the news recently due to a joint statement of support for the project from US and Russian officials. However, as former space shuttle pilot and International Space Station commander Terry Virts writes in an op-ed below, there is little agreement in US space policy circles about the need for the gateway.

Consider the following proposal for a human spaceflight program. First, a multinational consortium comes together to build a space station, with each nation responsible for specific pieces of the station or capabilities, such as module or robotic arm. Second, the station relies on existing rockets and vehicles to launch cargo and crew, effectively providing these programs a raison d’etre for many years to come. Third, the consortium develops an “assembly sequence” of missions, to put the station’s modules together in orbit, one by one. Then, once the space station is built, astronauts use it to perform experiments and prepare for eventual missions deeper into the Solar System.

Does this program sound familiar? You may think this is the International Space Station—but it is not. Rather, this is NASA’s recent proposal for something called “Deep Space Gateway.” But there are several key differences between this new program and the ISS. Most notably, the gateway would be built in orbit around the Moon. Also, it will not use the Space Shuttle for assembly but instead rely on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, vehicles that should be operational by the mid-2020s.

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