NASA: Good night moon, hello new rocket technology

Feb 01, 2010
Moon from the International Space Station
This image released by NASA in 2003 shows a partial moon that was photographed by an Expedition 7 crewmember from the International Space Station.

(AP) -- President Barack Obama is redirecting America's space program, killing NASA's $100 billion plans to return astronauts to the moon and using much of that money for new rocket technology research.

The moon plan, which NASA had already spent $9.1 billion on, was based on old technology and revisiting old places astronauts had already been, officials said. The previous NASA chief, in selling the old moon plan, had even called it "Apollo on steroids." The rockets were based on space shuttle boosters.

"Simply put, we're putting the science back into the rocket science at NASA," White House science adviser John Holdren said at a budget briefing Monday.

The $4 billion that NASA spends yearly on human space exploration will now be used for what NASA and White House officials called dramatic changes in rocketry, including in-orbit fueling. They said eventually those new technologies would be used to send astronauts to a nearby asteroid, a brief foray back to the moon, or the Martian moons.

The White House plan was short on details, such as where astronauts would fly next, on what type of rocketship, or when. However, officials were quick to point out the failures of the Bush administration's moon program, called Constellation. It included the construction of two types of rockets, Ares I and Ares V, and an Orion crew capsule. All were canceled. Shutting down the program will cost about $2.5 billion, NASA said.

Former President George W. Bush proposed the moon mission after the Feb. 1, 2003, space shuttle Columbia disaster that claimed seven lives - exactly seven years ago Monday.

Besides redirecting money to new technologies, NASA is getting an extra $6 billion over five years to encourage companies to build private spaceships that NASA could rent. Many of those companies are run by Internet pioneers. The companies included in the pilot project include Blue Origin, which is run by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Another firm already building private rockets is run by PayPal founder Elon Musk.

NASA will also spend an additional $2.5 billion over five years for more research on how global warming is affecting Earth, including replacing a carbon dioxide monitoring satellite that crashed last year. NASA will also extend the life by several years of the International Space Station, which had been slated for retirement in 2016. NASA's yearly budget is $19 billion.

NASA said if the private companies work well on their unproven spaceships, astronauts could fly in them to the space station as soon as 2016. After the next five space shuttle flights, NASA will have to hitch rides to the space station on Russian rockets.

"The truth is we were not on a sustainable path to get back to the moon," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a telephone conference call. "We were neglecting investments in key technologies."

Congressional officials howled over lost programs and jobs, but it is hard for Congress to save such a large program that is being cut with redistributed money.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., called the cancellation of the moon program the "death march for the future of U.S. human space flight."

Explore further: Lockheed Martin successfully mates NOAA GOES-R satellite modules

4.6 /5 (25 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA to get more money, but must scratch moon plan

Jan 28, 2010

(AP) -- President Barack Obama is essentially grounding efforts to return astronauts to the moon and instead is sending NASA in new directions with roughly $6 billion more, according to officials familiar with the plans.

Funding threatens US return to moon by 2020

Jun 18, 2009

US ambitions of returning to the moon by 2020 and then heading to Mars risk being grounded because of "unrealistic" funds allocated to NASA, said Senator Bill Nelson, a former space shuttle astronaut.

Return-to-moon plan gets boost on Capitol Hill

Sep 15, 2009

(AP) -- NASA's weakened return-to-the-moon program has gotten a lift on Capitol Hill. The head of a special expert panel conceded to Congress on Tuesday that the moon program could work if given enough money. That would ...

To the moon, NASA? Not on this budget, experts say

Aug 26, 2009

(AP) -- NASA will test the powerful first stage of its new Ares moon rocket Thursday, a milestone in a program that has already spent $7 billion for a rocket that astronauts may never use.

Recommended for you

Internet moguls Musk, Bezos shake up US space race

2 hours ago

The space race to end America's reliance on Russia escalated this week with a multibillion dollar NASA award for SpaceX's Elon Musk and an unexpected joint venture for Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos.

Winter in the southern uplands of Mars

23 hours ago

Over billions of years, the southern uplands of Mars have been pockmarked by numerous impact features, which are often so closely packed that they overlap. One such feature is Hooke crater, shown in this ...

Five facts about NASA's ISS-RapidScat

23 hours ago

NASA's ISS-RapidScat mission will observe ocean wind speed and direction over most of the globe, bringing a new eye on tropical storms, hurricanes and typhoons. Here are five fast facts about the mission.

User comments : 36

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

WithOneT
1.4 / 5 (20) Feb 01, 2010
Not a surprise, most communist leaders kill the space program. This should be a real boost for the free market space program until Obama can find a way to tax the life out of that as well.
Doug_Huffman
Feb 01, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
joefarah
2.4 / 5 (13) Feb 01, 2010
OK - so what would be the cost of this decision?
$10B in costs already absorbed
5,000 to 10,000 lost jobs
Savings? you tell me - less income tax, fewer spinoffs, perhaps a net of $10/yr per tax payer?

Risk: End of manned space technology know-how
Impact on economic recovery
Ceding the moon to China.
Repeating the cycle again in 10 years.
TegiriNenashi
1.9 / 5 (8) Feb 01, 2010
...fewer spinoffs...


I doubt there are any. Could you please name few former NASA bosses leaving the organization and establishing their own ventures capitalizing on those imaginary new technologies originally developed within NASA manned program?
sesc
4.8 / 5 (20) Feb 01, 2010
Not a surprise, most communist leaders kill the space program.

You compare your President to communists, when he does the most un-Left thing, discontinuing a huge STATE-run program and handing it over to private companies?!? Seriously, you guys really can't keep one bit of consistency, can you?
vivcollins
4.9 / 5 (15) Feb 01, 2010
Not a surprise, most communist leaders kill the space program. This should be a real boost for the free market space program until Obama can find a way to tax the life out of that as well.


If I remember correctly it was a communist leader that started the space race and the space industry?
RoboticExplorer
5 / 5 (18) Feb 01, 2010
People, this is a GOOD thing. Why spend that much money to do almost the exact same thing we did 40+ years ago. Lets step into the 21st century with some new ideas and techniques. No one said this is end end of maned space flight, just the end of how we USED to do it. New propulsion tech is looking ever more promising, http://www.physor...52.html. If we really want to travel around our solar system in any kind of safety, rockets are not the way to go. We need to build that ship in space with that concept in mind, similar to how the ISS was built.

Not to mention how many robotic missions could be sent to high interest science targets in the solar system that would provide decades of research potential with a quarter of the $100 Billion cost.

Sorry for the diatribe but this is one of the smartest things Obama could have done to help the overall advancement of space exploration.
OregonWind
5 / 5 (17) Feb 01, 2010
"NASA is getting an extra $6 billion over five years to encourage companies to build private spaceships that NASA could rent. Many of those companies are run by Internet pioneers."

My gosh, where in the world this is communism? This is the best incentive to capitalism! Obama administration is trying to create more high tech jobs, motivating private companies to develop bold technologies and making NASA a partner to private entrepreneurship. Bush was the one that buried American technology (including stem cell)!

I agree with you, RoboticExplorer
RobertKLR
Feb 01, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ontheinternets
5 / 5 (6) Feb 01, 2010
The comment about communism is so absurd that I have to wonder if it is sarcastic. The USSR had a formidable space program, often beating the US to the most fundamentally important technologies. It's even a commonly held opinion that if anything, their capitalist reforms resulted in a heavy blow to their scientific programs.

I'm not intending to put any nation or political philosophy up or down.. but if you don't give credit and criticism where it's due, you're not to be taken seriously.

I hope the changes to the space program work out for the best. I honestly don't know if it is a good thing or a bad thing, though I did have strong doubts about the constellation program. Perhaps this new plan will get torn apart by a later administration anyway as is often the case.
hologrip
1 / 5 (6) Feb 01, 2010
this is simply our gov. using tax payers money to waste on whatever they like. Billions are talked about as if they were millions and so forth and so on. What was that missle crash a few months ago for? Not what they said it was for I can tell u that much! Never A Straight Answer!
hologrip
1.4 / 5 (10) Feb 01, 2010
Do you people honestly think we don't already have advanced propulsion technology and r using it? could u imagine one day using the space shuttle and the next zipping off in an zero point craft that reaches the moon in minutes displayed on tv. total chaos. and here u r bickering over communism. r u payed to write comments on these sites?
stuntmonkey
5 / 5 (7) Feb 01, 2010
I'm a big supporter of the space program, and I think this is a great move. If we are to go substantially beyond the Moon, it's going to take new technology, not the 60s-era technology that Constellation would have provided. It's not enough to aim for the Moon, we need to aim beyond and develop the technologies to get us there.

Yes it will mean a loss of jobs in AL/TX/FL, but the cost of those people is one of the things making space flight prohibitively expensive in the first place. I love the cynicism of these congressmen bemoaning the "end of human spaceflight". They are trying to protect govt subsidy of their local economies, nothing else.
hologrip
1 / 5 (7) Feb 01, 2010
Nasa is a front just like the Federal Reserve. What's really up there on the moon? Why are other countries spending billions to go there? What's on the moons of mars(phobos)that monolith that buzz talks of? What's really up there? We're up there, that's who! Making sure us minions pay for the research on technologies in use! NASA yeah right!
hologrip
1 / 5 (5) Feb 01, 2010
I'm a big supporter of truth! I think it would be a great move if they stopped lying to the american people and those of the world. If the NASA were a person would you want to befriend him?
jmlvu
5 / 5 (8) Feb 02, 2010
9.1 Billion for forty year old technology. You can bet Dick Chenny had stock in Lockheed Martin, GE and the other good old boy companies.
jamesrm
5 / 5 (7) Feb 02, 2010
Both hologrip & WithOneT are prime examples of an urgent need for better Psychiatric care in the US.
:)

Regrds
James
EarthlingX
5 / 5 (7) Feb 02, 2010
This is probably the best thing that happened in the last 20 years at least.
Now we have a chance.
Titto
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 02, 2010
Obviously they will not go back to the moon because they never had been there!! Space travel is out of the question because of distances against time. So use that money rather here on our planet??
antialias
3.3 / 5 (3) Feb 02, 2010
Don't moan about the jobs lost at NASA. These people are highly skilled engineers and scientists. Don't think for a second that they will be unable to find other jobs.

One should worry about the unskilled labor who won't be able to find another job (e.g. administrators). But somehow I have a premonition that no administrators will be let go.
ClevorTrever
4.3 / 5 (6) Feb 02, 2010
It may feel disappointing but Obama's made the right decision. NASA doesn't exist to get things done, but to employ loads of people and spend lots of taxpayers' money as inefficiently as possible. Can you imagine what Bert Rutan or Elon Musk could achieve with a $19 billion annual handout?
Husky
4.6 / 5 (7) Feb 02, 2010
We need cheaper access to space / launchcosts, so here lies an oppertunity to develop new tech, such as space tethers, vasimir etc, instead of letting the dog do the same old tricks using expensive old tech
CreepyD
5 / 5 (6) Feb 02, 2010
Personaly I think this is great news overall. Taking a step back and developing the underlying technologies rather than just rushing into getting to the moon asap.
mklnk
4.9 / 5 (7) Feb 02, 2010
This is fantastic news. Bush's Constellation plan was a misguided attempt to capture some kind of Kennedy-esque adoration from the american people, in my opinion.

Developing plasma rockets and living on mars 50 years from now is waaaaay more important than playing golf on the moon ten years from now.
joefarah
5 / 5 (4) Feb 02, 2010
Frankly, I would like to see a debate involing Bolden and Griffin. I have a lot of confidence in Griffin.

In orbit fueling costs more than sending fuel up as part of a mission, unless the fuel is coming from the moon. Theoretically you can save all the unused fuel in a depot. In practice, that means that all your flights have to have the same orbit, or close to it. This flexibility reduction is useless.

By all means, let's push the VASMIR effort. It would be an enormous savings. But more important is to mine fuel from the moon because access to space is 50 to 100x cheaper when you take both gravity and atmosphere into account.
otto1923
5 / 5 (3) Feb 02, 2010
Making sure us minions pay for the research on technologies in use! NASA yeah right!
Just because 'we the people' dont know about it doesnt mean it isnt the absolutely right thing to do, or that if we did know we would object to it anyways and screw it up (which is why we dont know) -versteht? Things are moving very quickly- no sense wasting time on obsolete tech. Maybe the subcontractors could farm it out to some private consortium?
Developing plasma rockets and living on mars 50 years from now is waaaaay more important than playing golf on the moon ten years from now.
Leapfrogging. The moon is covered in glassy corrosive ash- best left to robot processors-
GDM
5 / 5 (3) Feb 02, 2010
NASA has always been the 800 pound gorilla in the room - crowding out the Burt Rutans on the world. What is the net value of a moon base doing basic research at a cost of 100 billion dollars versus a million metric ton comet/asteroid composed of water and methane ices, with a good part of regolith/minerals, moved gently to an Earth/Moon Lagrange point with a VASIMIR space tug (reusable)? I suspect the latter is worth FAR more than the former.
Frankly, the people who complain about government inefficiency (i.e., long waits in line at the DMV/Social Security offices) are the same who cry for reduced government spending. You can't have it both ways!
hologrip
1 / 5 (2) Feb 02, 2010
Question? What bear is best? Black bears! Fact! Black bears like beets. Bears, Beets, Battle Star Galactica!
RJB26
4 / 5 (2) Feb 02, 2010
im all for privatizing space. as GDM says the burt rutans are the ones that are going to get us to mars and beyond. without a healthy profit motive innovation doesnt happen. NASA has done great things but its time to pass the baton to free market, capitalist, pioneers. now if the trillion dollar president will just knock it off with all the spending and soaking up capital that belongs and is most efficiently allocated by the private sector, america can stay at the forefront of human space flight for a long time.
dk2009
5 / 5 (1) Feb 06, 2010
I'd like to see the lava tunnels of the Moon used as an initial base and for beginning a colony. Building underground on the Moon would be a great place to start since that would provide protection from radiation and meteorites with a minimum of effort, I'm guessing, compared to building on the surface from scratch. Just wish we could get started with the whole space-faring thing soon!
Caliban
4 / 5 (4) Feb 06, 2010
Overall, a good move. But I hate to see NASA beaten up over cost- if you're the one developing the tech in the first place- naturally there is going to be significant cost involved, whether you are government- or privately-owned. NASA should be getting licensing fees for all the tech that it generates and transfers to the private sector. That would be one way to reduce taxpayer support without having to cut the budget.
GDM
not rated yet Feb 06, 2010
OK, if we are all in agreement, what are we waiting for? Let's get moving!
Caliban
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 06, 2010
Is NASA hiring? Is Burt Rutan? I would love a job with either- especially if it didn't require me to move back to the American Southeast- Damn if it isn't sweathot there!
GDM
not rated yet Feb 06, 2010
Caliban, I doubt if either is hiring, and not being a top-of-the-line engineer, I have no hope with either of them. However, there are things any person can do, from accounting, to writing training manuals, to legal issues, you name it. I've been a lawyer (6 years - hated it), a software engineer (34 years - loved it), and a sometime pilot (only a couple hundred hours in a cessna). Now that private enterprise in the major focus, we need to collect in one place (the internet!) and start to work, with the Rutans or without them. We need plans, designs, schedules, costs, etc. Not only that, there are many websites that have done a ton of work before us, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Also know this: The smaller the group, the faster the decision process (although it still takes some metal cutting and $$$ to get up there).
Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Feb 06, 2010
GDM- you caught me in a moment of flippancy there. I fully agree with you that opportunity is knocking- and loudly!
funnyalien
4 / 5 (1) Feb 07, 2010
I would like to see the next big thing in rocket evolution from saturn to space shuttle, not back to 1960's design. It would be nice if NASA could work out a better reentry and reusable vehicle better than the space shuttle that would be the right path to take.
WhiteJim
5 / 5 (2) Feb 07, 2010
Sending rockets into space from the earth's surface is a waste of money and energy. Using them in space is much more efficient. A water pressure cannon or mag-lev type ramp that can send things to orbit without carrying extra weight and fuel and do the assembly of giant rockets in space is the only way to go out into space. There should be base stations on our moon and on the asteroids all the way to mars and the other planets so that we get there one step at a time rather than go from here to there in one shot.
Paradox
5 / 5 (3) Feb 07, 2010
People, this is a GOOD thing. this is one of the smartest things Obama could have done to help the overall advancement of space exploration.


Really? Hey I am all for unmanned missions, and I think NASA is a bloated money pit, HOWEVER,
NASA gets 17-18 billion this year. The military gets 762 billion. you could transfer 100 billion over to NASA, and the military would STILL be getting more than it did in 2006 (601 billion that year).
What is the military spending 161 billion on that it wasn't 4 years ago???
I just think that we have our priorities wrong.