Monday, February 01, 2010

NASA's Planned Return to the Moon - Cancelled?

There's been talk about this since Obama won the election, and now it looks like it's about to happen:

Orion Spacecraft; to launch in 2013 2014? Or... Never?

Obama budget would cut NASA moon plan
Companies to take over space taxi flights
NASA to focus on future technologies for Mars, beyond
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Feb 1 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's proposed budget gives NASA a $6 billion 5-year boost but aborts early attempts to return to the moon and turns over space transportation to commercial companies.

The space agency's budget would grow to $19 billion in 2011 under the proposed budget released on Monday, with an emphasis on science and less spent on space exploration.

It "adds $6 billion to NASA's budget over five years and draws upon American ingenuity to enable us to embark on an ambitious 21st Century program of human space exploration," the budget proposal reads.

But the plan ends the Constellation program "which was planning to use an approach similar to the Apollo program to return astronauts back to the Moon 50 years after that program's triumphs."

The budget notes that an independent panel found the moon program was years behind schedule.

"Instead, we are launching a bold new effort that invests in American ingenuity for developing more capable and innovative technologies for future space exploration," it reads.

The new budget, which is subject to change by Congress, also extends operations at the International Space Station past its planned retirement date of 2016, suggesting such potential additions as inflatable space habitats.

Obama's proposal hands over more space operations to the commercial sector, saying it will create thousands of new jobs and hold costs down.

NASA already has spent $9 billion on Constellation and likely would owe millions more to cancel existing contracts. Prime contractors on the Ares rocket program include ATK Launch Systems, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Boeing Co. [...]

The Constellation program fell behind, because George Bush failed to deliver the funding that he promised for it.

I actually like the idea that they are talking about involving the private sector more in the space program, to create more jobs. They should have done it long ago. But talking about skipping the moon and going on to Mars in nonsense.

Any astronauts sent to Mars would best be trained on lunar missions first, where they would gain experience. Also, the moon is much closer, useful, and doable; Mars is very far away, and I believe manned missions to Mars are even farther away still. Pie in the Sky, at this point. And if we can't even make it back to the moon, then we have no business even trying to go to Mars. The moon is the stepping stone to the rest of the solar system. It would be foolish to skip it.

Besides, if the Constellation program is canceled now, the billions that have already been spent will be wasted. Why not revise the program to include more private sector involvement and investment?

I know some people think manned space exploration is wasteful, yet look at how small NASA's budget is, compared to other government spending:

Unlike entitlement spending, the space program creates jobs, and new technologies that can be adapted to other uses to improve our lives here on Earth.

Opening up our space program to more private sector involvement IS change I could believe in. I just want to see the Constellation program continue, under those changes. Let the seed money the government has already spent on it be invested, not wasted. Let it be used instead to jump start a new partnership with NASA and private sector companies, to streamline the Constellation program and keep it on track, on time, and within it's budget.

Also see:

Will Obama cancel NASA's Moon Mission?


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