Obama revives capsule from canceled moon program

Apr 13, 2010 By SETH BORENSTEIN , AP Science Writer
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(AP) -- President Barack Obama is reviving the NASA crew capsule concept that he had canceled with the rest of the moon program earlier this year, in a move that will mean more jobs and less reliance on the Russians, officials said Tuesday.

The , called Orion, still won't go to the moon. It will go unmanned to the to standby as an emergency vehicle to return astronauts home, officials said.

Administration officials also said NASA will speed up development of a massive rocket. It would have the power to blast crew and cargo far from Earth, although no destination has been chosen yet. The rocket would be ready to launch several years earlier than under the old moon plan.

The two moves are being announced before a Thursday visit to Cape Canaveral, Fla., by Obama. They are designed to counter criticism of the Obama administration's space plans as being low on detail, physical hardware, and local jobs.

The president killed his President George W. Bush's , called Constellation, as being unsustainable. In a major shift, the Obama space plan relies on private companies to fly to the space station. But it also extends the space station's life by five years and puts billions into research to eventually develop new government rocketships for future missions to a nearby asteroid, the moon, Martian moons or other points in space. Those stops would be stepping stones on an eventual mission to Mars.

First man-on-the-moon , veteran Apollo astronauts and former senior NASA managers have been attacking the Obama plan - before the latest revision - as the death of U.S. leadership in space. Armstrong in an e-mail to The Associated Press said he had "substantial reservations" and more than two dozen Apollo era veterans signed a letter calling the plan a "misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human for the foreseeable future."

Even with the revival of the Orion crew capsule, the overall moon return mission initiated by Bush - which involved a base camp - remains dead. And the revived Orion, slimmed-down from earlier versions, won't be used as originally intended, to land on the moon.

The capsule will be developed and launched - unmanned - on an existing rocket to the space station, said a senior NASA official who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to detract from the presidential announcement. The Orion would remain at the space station and be used as an emergency escape ship back to Earth. That would mean NASA wouldn't have to rely on the Russian Soyuz capsule to return astronauts to Earth.

Launching Orion on unmanned existing rockets - such as Atlas or Deltas - would save money and time.

The Obama plan also will speed up development of a larger "heavy-lift" rocket that would take cargo and crew away from Earth orbit to the moon, asteroids and other places.

Originally, Obama was proposing just spending billions of dollars on various research programs to eventually develop breakthroughs to make such trips cheaper and faster. Critics said that plan was too vague.

Now, the president is committed to choosing a single heavy-lift rocket design by 2015 and then starting its construction, officials said.

This shift by Obama means NASA would launch a heavy rocket years before it was supposed to under the old Constellation plan, the NASA official said. However, it will be different from the Apollo-like Ares V rocket that the Constellation plan would have used. Instead it will incorporate newer concepts such as refueling in orbit or using inflatable habitats, officials said.

Overall, the Obama program will mean 2,500 more Florida jobs than the old Bush program, a senior White House official said. In addition, the commercial space industry on Tuesday released a study that said the president's plan for private ships to fly astronauts to and from the space station would result in 11,800 jobs.

"We wanted to take the best of what was available from Constellation," the NASA official told The Associated Press as part of a White House briefing.

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User comments : 9

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Mercury_01
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 13, 2010
5 bucks says Obama has only been rousing the crowd so they'll accept his new international Mars plan, complete with a bold, Kennedy- like timeline.
thetruechaos
3.5 / 5 (4) Apr 14, 2010
The president is far smarter than just about anything we've had in the past. His new plan is going to be met with accolades. Anyone who thinks they are getting less than 8 years of him are hopeful, or delirious.
jmlvu
5 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2010
Orion Bush's billion dollar metal turd.
Obama is going to give hundreds of millions of dollars to Lockheed Martin to dig up this 1960s technology.
minimegamonkeyman
5 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2010
I am so excited about this! The article's not very detailed... But is it too early to assume that the heavy rocket whose development NASA is going to speed up is the Ares V? Anyway, it's a good compromise between the Constellation program and the folks who were talking about scrapping it for a retrofitted Delta.

@jmivu: Actually, it's ATK who'll get a large portion of the money. They build the SRBs we use to fly the shuttles, and hope to use to fly the Ares rockets.

@Mercury_01: Isn't a roused crowd and a Kennedy-like timeline what we need to restart our national space program?
Nik_2213
5 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2010
A generic capsule with a proven pad-escape system ? A generic heavy-lift booster ? Well, they sound useful and could be cost effective...

The former could be offered as-is to independent launchers-- The NASA crew-rating would satisfy insurers...

The latter would save a lot of woes associated with throw-weight starvation of missions...

Sounds practicable, sounds affordable: I say 'Go For It'.
joefarah
1 / 5 (3) Apr 14, 2010
OK Before anyone gets too excited.
We still have to get astronauts to the ISS.
That means that there is ALREADY going to be the capacity to send astronauts home. So this capsule will be UNUSED. What a waste of dollars it would be!
NotAsleep
not rated yet Apr 14, 2010
I am so excited about this! The article's not very detailed... But is it too early to assume that the heavy rocket whose development NASA is going to speed up is the Ares V? Anyway, it's a good compromise between the Constellation program and the folks who were talking about scrapping it for a retrofitted Delta.


Actually, the article specifically says it will NOT be the Ares V... although that doesn't mean the author of the article didn't misquote
trantor
5 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2010
NASA should just spend those 6 billion dollars co-developing SKYLON and its SABRE engine.

Then, after having an order of magnitude cheaper access to space (also, remember Skylon is supposed to be able to carry some 16 peopel to space at once!), build that big space station designed by Reaction Engines (supposed to work like an orbital dry-dock), and invest lots of money at VASIMR. Now you have the cheap launch vehicle to take parts to space and mount a spaceship in orbit, and an engine (VASIMR) that cant take off from Earth, but can take you to Mars in 39 days (if you have a 200MW generator, of course, but thats another story)
Javinator
5 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2010
OK Before anyone gets too excited.
We still have to get astronauts to the ISS.
That means that there is ALREADY going to be the capacity to send astronauts home. So this capsule will be UNUSED. What a waste of dollars it would be!


Astronauts are left at the ISS and are picked up later in some cases. Also, it was already stated in the article that the capsule would only be for emergencies. It's supposed to remain unused unless something goes wrong and they need to get the astronauts out.

Think of it like an ejector seat in a jet. Sure, you already have the means to land by way of your jet. If something goes wrong, the ejector seat and parachute become your new means of landing.