|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] The end of the future
|February 2, 2010
Obama Calls for End to NASAâ€™s Moon Program
By KENNETH CHANG
President Obama is calling on NASA to cancel the program that was to
return humans to the Moon by 2020, and focus instead on radically new
Mr. Obamaâ€™s 2010 budget proposal for NASA asks for $18 billion over
five years for fueling spacecraft in orbit, new types of engines to
accelerate spacecraft through space and robotic factories that could
churn soil on the Moon â€” and eventually Mars â€” into rocket fuel.
Plans for a new mission to leave Earthâ€™s orbit will probably not be
spelled out for a few years, and the budget proposal makes it clear that
any future exploration program will be an international collaboration,
not an American one, more like the International Space Station than
â€œI think this is a dramatic shift in the way weâ€™ve gone about
particularly human spaceflight over the past almost 50 years,â€ said
John M. Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at George
Washington University who was one of about a dozen people who were
briefed about the NASA proposal Sunday evening.
â€œIt is a somewhat risky proposition,â€ Dr. Logsdon said, â€œbut
weâ€™ve been kind of stuck using the technologies weâ€™ve developed
in the â€™50s and â€™60s.â€
To pay for the new technology development, the budget calls for a
complete stop in NASAâ€™s Constellation program, the rockets and
spacecraft that NASA has been working on for the past four years to
replace the space shuttles.
â€œWe are proposing canceling the program, not delaying it,â€ Peter
Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Sunday.
The proposal would officially end aspirations to return astronauts to
the Moon by 2020 â€” President George W. Bushâ€™s â€œvision for
space explorationâ€ developed in the aftermath of the loss of the
space shuttle Columbia in 2003.
In place of the Moon mission, Mr. Obamaâ€™s vision offers, at least
initially, nothing in terms of human exploration of the solar system.
What the administration calls a â€œbold new initiativeâ€ does not
spell out a next destination or timetable for getting there.
In the meantime, instead of using the Constellationâ€™s Ares I rocket
and Orion crew capsule to ferry astronauts to the International Space
Station, $6 billion would instead go to financing space taxi services
from commercial companies.
Under the proposal, NASAâ€™s budget would rise to $19 billion in the
2011 fiscal year from $18.7 billion. It would also get additional
increases in subsequent years, reaching $21 billion in 2015. In total,
NASA would receive $100 billion over the next five years.
Whether Congress agrees to the restructuring of NASA remains to be seen.
As reports of the impending cancellation of Constellation leaked out
last week, members of Congress, particularly in Alabama, Florida and
Texas, the homes of the NASA centers most involved with Constellation,
â€œIf early reports for what the White House wants to do with NASA are
correct, then the presidentâ€™s green-eyeshade-wearing advisers are
dead wrong,â€ Senator Bill Nelson of Florida said in a statement last
Congress may also balk at the price tag. After spending $9 billion over
the past four years on Constellation, canceling the contracts with
Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Alliant Techsystems and other companies will
cost an additional $2.5 billion, Dr. Logsdon said NASA officials had
If implemented, the NASA a few years from now would be fundamentally
different from NASA today. The space agency would no longer operate its
own spacecraft, but essentially buy tickets for its astronauts.
Dr. Logsdon said the officials said NASA would evolve into a role more
akin to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which preceded
NASA. The committee did not manufacturer aircraft, but performed
aeronautical research that was adopted by aircraft manufacturers.
â€œThe assumption is that there are technological breakthroughs out
there ready to be discovered and exploited,â€ Dr. Logsdon said.
â€œIâ€™m impressed and a little surprised how large the investment
in new technology is planned to be. It does represent a shift away from
developing systems to developing technologies before developing
If the approach succeeds, it could jumpstart a vibrant space industry,
but it is also risky. By canceling Ares I, NASA would have no backup if
the commercial companies were not able to deliver.
One likely competitor for the commercial crew contract is Space
Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX for short. But its
Falcon 9 rocket, the one that would be used to carry astronauts to the
space station, has yet to have its first launching. When SpaceX, a
startup led by Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal, won in 2006 a contract
to carry cargo to the space station, the company said it would have six
flights of the Falcon 9 by the end of 2009.
Conversely, another likely competitor, United Launch Alliance, which is
a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has decades of
experience building space hardware for NASA, and its rockets, the Delta
IV and the Atlas V, have successfully carried military and commercial
satellites to space. But modifications needed for carrying astronauts
could be costly and the launch alliance has also experienced delays and
NASA has also not yet spelled out how it would go about verifying that
commercial rockets are sufficiently safe for carrying astronauts. A
worry is also that the decades of expertise and experience within NASA
in operating spacecraft will be lost, and that the commercial companies
might stumble as they learn.
A move to an international collaboration would also make future
exploration programs susceptible to buffeting from diplomatic winds on
Earth. For example, after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, lawmakers
questioned whether the United States should continue flying astronauts
on the Russian Soyuz rockets.
While more countries would share the cost, an international
collaboration would probably be more expensive and cumbersome to manage,
and could be slowed down by delays of any of the partners.
â€œIâ€™m optimistic this provides a path to a long term and
sustainable and high quality program,â€ Dr. Logsdon said. â€œBut I
think there will be a lot of debate over the details over the next few