Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NASA Might Scale Back Plans For Lunar Return

This just in from Eun Kyung Kim of Gannett News Service:

WASHINGTON - NASA hinted it may have to scale back its plans for returning astronauts to the moon as scheduled.

During a hearing today before a House appropriations panel, lawmakers repeatedly questioned NASA's acting administrator about whether the agency's current budget proposal will provide enough money to send Americans back to the moon by 2020.

Chris Scolese, NASA's acting chief, acknowledged it might: "I anticipate that we would have some changes. I just can't tell you what those changes would be," he said.

"We're still looking at options for what do we mean by the moon. Do we mean a colony on the moon? That's clearly very expensive. Are we looking at something along the lines of what we did with Apollo?" he said.

"It will probably be less than an outpost on the moon, but where it fits between sorties -- single trips to the moon to various parts -- and an outpost is really going to be dependent on the studies that we're going to be doing."

Scolese spoke during testimony on the agency's $18.7 billion budget request for 2010 before members on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.

Read the full story in Thursday's print editions of Florida Today.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge and save the NASA artist concept a lunar lander, lunar rover and astronauts on the moon's surface. Earth is also visible in this rendering. Image credit: John Frassanito and Associates.


Mark Lopa said...

I was expecting a delay in the 2020 target date, but a scale back isn't all that surprising, either. We can't even get back and forth to and from low Earth orbit without problems. How do we expect to be building colonies on the moon in 11 years, let alone send astronauts to Mars? I still think we should perfect going to and from the ISS before setting our sights on celestial objects. Scrapping the shuttle for this endeavor is just the wrong thing to do, in my opinion.

Joel Raupe said...

Reports following testimony Wednesday, April 29, from NASA acting administrator Chris Scolese saying "NASA may abandon plans for moon base" are incorrect.

Congress and the President might one day, even soon, decide to abandon the long-term national goal of setting up a manned station on the Moon, but such a change in policy did not happen, nor was it remotely hinted at, today.

Nothing in Soclese's testimony before a U.S. House committee was inconsistent with present law or NASA policy.

On October 15, 2008 Congress passed the Fiscal Year 2009 NASA budget, and in the language of that legislation (H.R. 6063) was the following, now known as Public Law 110-422.

"As NASA works toward the establishment of a lunar outpost, NASA shall make no plans that would require a lunar outpost to be occupied to maintain its viability. Any such outpost shall be operable as a human-tended facility capable of remote or autonomous operation for extended periods."

Reports that NASA, "instead of building a permanent lunar base, may instead send astronauts on short sorties, or excursions," are more than a year overdue.

This language was included in original mark-up language in the House sub-committee when the U.S. House started the ball rolling on the President's budget request for NASA 11 months ago.

Added in committee, passed by both House and Senate and signed by the President, this must be one of the most under-reported stories of 2008, with regard to national space policy.

The United States formally instructed NASA to plan for an eventual Lunar outpost that could remain unmanned, for indeterminate periods of time last year, just as Scolese alluded to in his testimony April 29.

Only writers living outside the context of present long-term space policy could accuse Scolese or NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Doug Cooke, of providing "vague answers" to questions from congressional committee Members.

Further, nothing in this section of NASA's budget (federal law, 42 U.S. Code 17732) was later changed in President Barack Obama's supplemental "stimulus" budget package (Public Law 111-5) signed into law February 5.

The clarifying changes made to NASA's long-term manned exploration strategy last year, eliminating design planning for a permanently manned lunar outpost appears to be one of the most fundamentally under-reported stories of 2008.

For example, almost nowhere will you find the following, which like the sentence above, also appeared in the earliest mark-ups of this year's operating budget for NASA:

(b) DESIGNATION.—The United States portion of the first human-tended outpost established on the surface of the Moon shall be designated the ‘‘Neil A. Armstrong Lunar Outpost’’.

Or the following, understood in context and as context, could explain some of awards NASA made in support of ISS re-supply missions a few weeks later:

(c) SENSE OF CONGRESS.—It is the sense of Congress that NASA should make use of commercial services to the maximum extent practicable in support of its lunar outpost activities.

Reporters who want to decypher happenings within NASA should remember, under the law, the agency is very much "a creature of Congress." Presidents come and go, but Congress has the power of the purse, most especially the U.S. House of Representatives, where all spending plans must begin.