Obama's budget slashes moon mission, new rockets

Jan 27, 2010 By Robert Block and Mark K. Matthews
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NASA's plans to return astronauts to the moon are dead. So are the rockets being designed to take them there -- that is, if President Barack Obama gets his way.

When the releases his budget proposal Monday, there will be no money for the Constellation program that was supposed to return humans to the moon by 2020. The troubled and expensive Ares I rocket that was to replace the to ferry humans to space will be gone, along with money for its big brother, the Ares V cargo rocket that was to launch the fuel and supplies needed to take humans back to the moon.

There will be no lunar landers, no moon bases, no Constellation program at all.

In their place, according to White House insiders, agency officials, industry executives and congressional sources familiar with Obama's long-awaited plans for the space agency, NASA will look at developing a new "heavy-lift" rocket that one day will take humans and robots to explore beyond low Earth orbit. But that day will be years -- possibly even a decade or more -- away.

In the meantime, the White House will direct NASA to concentrate on Earth-science projects -- principally, researching and monitoring climate change -- and on a new technology research and development program that will one day make human exploration of asteroids and the possible.

There will also be funding for private companies to develop capsules and rockets that can be used as space taxis to take astronauts on fixed-price contracts to and from the International Space Station -- a major change in the way the agency has done business for the past 50 years.

The White House budget request, which is certain to meet fierce resistance in Congress, scraps the Bush administration's Vision for Space Exploration and signals a major reorientation of NASA, especially in the area of .

"We certainly don't need to go back to the moon," said one administration official.

Everyone interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity, either because they are not authorized to talk for the White House or because they fear for their jobs. All are familiar with the broad sweep of Obama's budget proposal, but none would talk about specific numbers because these are being tightly held by the White House until the release of the budget.

But senior administration officials say the spending freeze for some federal agencies is not going to apply to the space agency in this budget proposal. Officials said NASA was expected to see some "modest" increase in its current $18.7 billion annual budget -- possibly $200 million to $300 million more but far less than the $1 billion boost agency officials had hoped for.

They also said that the White House plans to extend the life of the to at least 2020. One insider said there would be an "attractive sum" of money -- to be spent over several years -- for private companies to make rockets to carry astronauts there.

But Obama's budget freeze is likely to hamstring NASA in coming years as the spending clampdown will eventually shackle the agency and its ambitions. And this year's funding request to develop both commercial rockets and a new NASA spaceship will be less than what was recommended by a White House panel of experts last year.

That panel, led by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine, concluded that to have a "viable" human space-exploration program, NASA needed a $3 billion annual budget increase, and that it would take as much as $5 billion distributed over five years to develop commercial rockets that could carry astronauts safely to and from the space station.

Last year, lawmakers prohibited NASA from canceling any Constellation programs and starting new ones in their place unless the cuts were approved by Congress. The provision sends a "direct message that the Congress believes Constellation is, and should remain, the future of America's human space flight program," wrote U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., last month.

Nevertheless, NASA contractors have been quietly planning on the end of Ares I, which is years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget. NASA has already spent more than $3 billion on Ares I and more than $5 billion on the rest of Constellation.

In recent days, NASA has been soliciting concepts for a new heavy-lift rocket from major contractors, including Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Pratt & Whitney. Last week, a group of moonlighting NASA engineers and rocket hobbyists proposed variations on old agency designs that use the shuttle's main engines and fuel tank to launch a capsule into space. According to officials and industry executives familiar with the presentations, some of the contractor designs are very similar to the one pressed by the hobbyists.

Officially, companies such as Boeing still support Constellation and its millions of dollars of contracts. Some believe that in a battle with Congress, Ares may survive.

"I would not say Ares is dead yet," said an executive with one major NASA contractor. "It's probably more accurate to say it's on life support. We have to wait to see how the coming battle ends."

Few doubt that a fight is looming. In order to finance new science and technology programs and find money for commercial rockets, Obama will be killing off programs that have created jobs in some powerful constituencies, including the Marshall Space Flight Center in Shelby's Alabama. But the White House is said to be ready for a fight.

The end of the shuttle program this year is already going to slash 7,000 jobs at Kennedy Space Center.

One administration official said the budget will send a message that it's time members of Congress recognize that NASA can't design space programs to create jobs in their districts. "That's the view of the president," the official said.

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User comments : 28

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Bob_Kob
5 / 5 (3) Jan 27, 2010
And so too does the space travel all but vanish for probably 30-40 years until we design a revolutionary propulsion device (and fusion).
Doug_Huffman
1.5 / 5 (8) Jan 27, 2010
NASA has no purpose remaining except as the tyrant's butt-boy. It is time to reap the third-world's peace dividend and shut NASA down.

Remember that NASA has already cost US the SSC.
Royale
not rated yet Jan 27, 2010
but fusion is only about 20 years away. lol. Seriously, though, he has a point about congressmen wanting jobs for people in their district and they're being blinded by that. I'd love to see a moon base, and if certain events didn't occur in 2001 we'd probably have the funds to make it.
joefarah
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 27, 2010
Make way for the Chinese - they will conquer space if this goes thru. I'd like to compare NASA to, say, the Army. Which has a higher budget? Which has had the most technology spin-offs, and associated job spin-offs? Shutting down space exploration is ridiculous and will cause voter revolt. Shut down the Global Warming spending instead - that's just a channel for one-world government and unjustified population control.
Nik_2213
not rated yet Jan 27, 2010
Make sense for private 'expendable' launchers to license the Ares' capsule and its proven escape system, making their insurance providers happier.

Also, Reaction Engine's air-breathing Sabre engine should allow Skylon to fly runway to orbit to runway within a decade...
dachpyarvile
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 27, 2010
This is unfortunate--but expected--news. Initial cost of going back to the Moon would be fairly high but setting up launch points on the Moon with a base or two in place would be a lot cheaper than launching from earth in the long run. Obama is being short-sighted again.

As to the comment regarding the Chinese conquering space, anyone else ever watch the short-lived series FireFly?
El_Nose
4 / 5 (4) Jan 27, 2010
Not just China - and lets face it China is technically the least advanced of the space agencies -- India , Japan and Russia is still number two lets remember.

Only the wealthiest countries on the planet can think of affording getting into space and so far the USA has reaped most of the rewards -- As I am American I am all for the US staying in the forefront of space exploration -- being a Democrat and a scientist this saddens me.
dachpyarvile
1.4 / 5 (10) Jan 27, 2010
Under Obama's and Congress' watch this last year has seen well over 7 millions of jobs pass away. What is a few more to him? :)

Going back to the moon was a very good idea. Not only would moon launches be cheaper than earth launches for further interplanetary exploration but a base would be a very good idea in terms of the atrophy suffered by astronauts in Zero-G environments.

There is a degree of actual gravity there--even if less than earth by about 5/6, if I recall correctly--which may compensate for the problem and possibly allow astronauts to stay out longer with less ill effects (short of those caused by radiation exposure, perhaps). The only way we will know is to get a base up there.

Unfortunately, the way the wind is blowing these days it is becoming increasingly likely that a manned mission to Mars that was to be planned for 2036 will also find itself facing an Obama death panel.
Doug_Huffman
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 27, 2010
Hmmm, I wasn't aware that 'scientist' was a job title or description. Maybe it's like 'virtual' in that the next word is a lie.

Ahh, someone just pointed out to me that there are democrat-scientists like those that run IPCC and Climategate.

TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2010
Make way for the Chinese - they will conquer space if this goes thru.


What is this, china syndrome? No matter how much money you throw in, you can't dismiss the fact that the space is extremely inhospitable place for humans. Leave the cold, empty space to robots. And finally: No, personal computers were not created as spinoff of apollo program -- that is an urbane legend.
dachpyarvile
2.5 / 5 (8) Jan 27, 2010
Space may be an inhospitable place for humankind but there may be another inhabitable planet out there beyond our own system that will sustain us when the Sun begins to boil away the oceans in anywhere between a million to a billion years.

Humankind has to start somewhere. Our own interplanetary space is a good start.
RJB26
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 27, 2010
great so the trillion dollar super president will spend us into oblivion in all areas except space exploration. cant wait till 2012.
mongander
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 27, 2010
I agree. Shut'em down. NASA pissed away all its credibility with Hansen's Global Smarming fiction.
TegiriNenashi
5 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2010
... when the Sun begins to boil away the oceans in anywhere between a million to a billion years.

Humankind has to start somewhere. Our own interplanetary space is a good start.


Nobody can predict future puny 100 years ahead, and you talk billions? Just for the reference, nothing would happen with sun on million year time frame. Are you sure the human race would still be there (in present flesh-meat form)?
MathewSullivan2100
5 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2010
If NASA is interested in more funding for various projects, a robotic probe should be sent to see about the prospect of processing a few grams of helium-3 on the Moon. Having access to a reliable source of helium-3 may not only solve our energy challenges here at home, but also make our country exceptionally rich in the process.

Why not spend a few hundred million dollars on a probe to determine the feasibility? Make it a simple, scaled down test. If the test establishes that the concept is viable, then send a larger probe to bring back a given quantity of helium-3 to prove the concept.

With the current economy and budgetary constraints, NASA doesn’t have much to loose at this point.

Mathew Sullivan
Boynton Beach, Fl
MathewSullivan2100
1 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2010
If NASA is interested in more funding for various projects, a robotic probe should be sent to see about the prospect of processing a few grams of helium-3 on the Moon. Having access to a reliable source of helium-3 may not only solve our energy challenges here at home, but also make our country exceptionally rich in the process.

Why not spend a few hundred million dollars on a probe to determine the feasibility? Make it a simple, scaled down test. If the test establishes that the concept is viable, then send a larger probe to bring back a given quantity of helium-3 to prove the concept.

With the current economy and budgetary constraints, NASA doesn’t have much to loose at this point.
MathewSullivan2100
1 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2010
I'm getting a strange error code and can't post, and I don't believe I'm violating the rules.
MathewSullivan2100
1 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2010
Ops, looks like it went through. A bit strange if you ask me.
Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Jan 27, 2010
Have had similar issues in the past, as well, Matt- some kinda glitch.
After looking at this- it's not all bad news- and we won't know to what extent these cuts are written in stone until the dust settles. I don't think any of us thinks that NASA has exactly utilized its funding in the most effective or wise way. This may very well provide impetus to re-focus on the mission, currently and down the road.
ParadigmShift
not rated yet Jan 28, 2010
Hopefully, private space flight and exploration kicks off soon, because these federal institutions have slowed down the human space program to an imperceptible crawl. On the other hand, the proliferation of robotics in space exploration has yielded much more data than would ever be possible with direct human exploration.
dachpyarvile
1.6 / 5 (7) Jan 28, 2010
Nobody can predict future puny 100 years ahead, and you talk billions? Just for the reference, nothing would happen with sun on million year time frame. Are you sure the human race would still be there (in present flesh-meat form)?


As you said, we cannot predict what will happen with certainty a billion years from now. Nonetheless, some stars have been observed which ramp up their fusion long before leaving the main sequence, increasing their radiative output.

Consensus implies that could happen in a billion years. There is the slimmest of possibilities that our Sun could enter such a stage a million years from now. Either way on the timeline, when that happens the earth's oceans will be blasted into space. Only one thing can delay that--CO2. Doubling CO2 now can help to protect the atmosphere and oceans then. The alternative is to thin the atmosphere by removing nitrogen permanently.

What form we possess by those years will depend upon what we do to and with ourselves.
sender
not rated yet Jan 28, 2010
Space fountain systems should take over where rockets have failed being more practical than particle colliders and the economic viability is great considering particle colliders dont offer a marketable service whereas a space fountain would.
dirk_bruere
3 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2010
Martians speak Chinese
fourthrocker
not rated yet Jan 28, 2010
Looks like this countries decline continues to accelerate, now we are going to leave space to China and Russia. It is truly unfortunate that the one great failing of this countries forefathers was that they failed to remember why they were there, they were there because things had gotten so bad it required a revolution. They should have known that things would get that bad again eventually.
Royale
not rated yet Jan 28, 2010
There will be several more revolutions fourthrocker. you know that. Nothing ever stays exactly the same. As for everyone's input here it's a pretty interesting read. a moonbase would be cool to have any way you look at it though.
marjon
2 / 5 (4) Jan 28, 2010
I agree. Shut'em down. NASA pissed away all its credibility with Hansen's Global Smarming fiction.

That's what BHO wants NASA to do more of, study climate change.
Skeptic_Heretic
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 29, 2010
No, personal computers were not created as spinoff of apollo program -- that is an urbane legend.

Refinement of small scale transistors and micronization of multi-function link arrays is not an urban legend. Without those two technologies you would not have a personal computer.
dutchman
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 29, 2010
Shut down the Global Warming spending instead - that's just a channel for one-world government and unjustified population control.


Ah yes the paranoid conspiracy theorist are alive and well....

The only types "unjustified population control" are war, poverty, and torture and execution of dissidents.