Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Will Obama cancel NASA's Moon Mission?

Let's hope not. I've written before about NASA's Constellation Program, which aims to replace the space shuttle with Ares rockets and the Orion spacecraft, which can also be used to bring us to the moon again. Will the financial crisis affect this program? What will an Obama administration do?

Mock-up of Orion spacecraft with Lunar Lander

The space program has always been a target for budget cutters. Many people view it as an extraneous waste of money. Many Democrats in particular, think the budget for the space program would be better spent on social programs.

It's quite natural that we should wonder what Obama's plans are for NASA and the Constellation Program in particular. It seems there has been a lot of tension between NASA's current administrator, and Obama's transition team:

NASA has become a transition problem for Obama
CAPE CANAVERAL – NASA administrator Mike Griffin is not cooperating with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, is obstructing its efforts to get information and has told its leader that she is “not qualified” to judge his rocket program, the Orlando Sentinel has learned.

In a heated 40-minute conversation last week with Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator who heads the space transition team, a red-faced Griffin demanded to speak directly to Obama, according to witnesses.

In addition, Griffin is scripting NASA employees and civilian contractors on what they can tell the transition team and has warned aerospace executives not to criticize the agency’s moon program, sources said.

Griffin’s resistance is part of a no-holds-barred effort to preserve the Constellation program, the delayed and over-budget moon rocket that is his signature project.

[...]

The tensions are due to the fact that NASA’s human space flight program is facing its biggest crossroads since the end of the Apollo era in the 1970s. The space shuttle is scheduled to be retired in 2010, and the next-generation Constellation rockets won’t fly before 2015.

Nearly four years ago, President Bush brought in Griffin to implement a plan to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 as a prelude to going to Mars. Griffin and his team selected Constellation, with its NASA-designed Ares I rocket and Orion capsule, as cheaper and safer than existing rockets. Constellation – especially Ares 1 -- is the center of what Griffin sees as his legacy to return humans to the frontiers of space.

Griffin has made no secret that he would like to stay on but only, as he recently told Kennedy Space Center workers, "under the right circumstances," including being able to finish Constellation.

But budget problems and technical issues have created growing doubts about the project. Griffin has dismissed these as normal rocket development issues, but they’ve clearly got the transition team’s attention.

When team members arrived three weeks ago, they asked the agency, among other things, to quantify how much could be saved by canceling Ares I. Though they also asked what it would take to accelerate the program, the fact that the team could even consider scrapping the program was enough to spur Griffin and his supporters into action

According to industry officials, Griffin started calling heads of companies working for NASA, demanding that they either tell the Obama team that they support Constellation or refrain from talking about alternatives. [...]

I would like to see the Constellation program stay on track. The Orion spacecraft is needed to replace the aging shuttle fleet, and will be more economical in the long run. It's needed to service the ISS too, so I suspect it may continue on schedule. But the return to the moon, I don't know. It would be nice if Obama were to look on it the way JFK did.

Back to the moon by 2020. Will we make it?

A great deal of time and resources have already been expended on the current plan; altering it significantly could throw a lot of that investment away. Also, NASA is providing jobs in the high tech industry, even in the private sector, and creating spin-off technologies that help us in so many ways. There is so much going right with it presently, I'm hoping that an Obama administration will choose to build on that rather than subtract from it.

I know Obama's team has to ask questions and make assessments. As to what he will do, I'm hoping he's going to be a JFK kinda guy in this regard.


Ares I rocket propelling Orion space capsule

The Constellation program will ultimately be not only less expensive, but safer for our astronauts too. It can service the ISS, AND get us to the Moon again, as well as assist us to getting to Mars eventually. Hopefully Obama can make it part of his plan and his presidential legacy, too.
     

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