Friday, May 08, 2009

Panel Puts Moon Program Under Microscope

A blue-ribbon panel will examine alternatives to NASA's Ares rockets and Orion spacecraft but limit the number of options ultimately presented to President Barack Obama, its chairman said today.

NASA's aim to return to the moon and use it as a proving ground for future expeditions to Mars, asteroids and other celestial destinations also will be reconsidered.

"We will be looking at different architectures as well as the existing architecture," Norman Augustine, former chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin, said in a teleconference with reporters today.

"We will look at derivatives and we've been asked to provide options," he said. "That means at least two but not a large number because I think it would be of no value to the administration for us to offer 10 options, so there will probably be a couple options."

The Obama Administration launched a sweeping review of NASA's human space flight program Thursday as the agency unveiled a proposed $18.7 billion budget for fiscal 2010. Augustine, who headed a similar review of NASA programs in 1990, was selected to serve as chairman of a panel of experts now being assembled. The administration directed the panel to report back by the end of August.

In the wake of the 2003 Columbia accident, the Bush Administration directed NASA to complete the International Space Station and retire its shuttle fleet by the end of September 2010.

NASA also was directed to build a new crew exploration vehicle, have it ready to fly by 2014, and return astronauts to the moon no later than 2020.

NASA since has spent $6.9 billion on Project Constellation, which is developing two Ares rockets, Apollo-like Orion space capsules and the Altair lunar lander. The agency is investing in that architecture at a rate of about $300 million a month.

Augustine said the panel's examination of NASA's human space flight program will be wide-ranging.

"The fundamental guidance that we have been given, and we're comfortable with, is we're to take a fresh look, and go where the facts are, and basically call it the way we see it," Augustine said.

"Having said that, there is one boundary condition none of us can do anything about, and that is we are where we are. We have programs under way. There are systems existing, being built, and so that's sort of the starting condition, which doesn't mean you have to abide by that in the future, but you can't ignore it."

The fact that the Obama Administration ordered up the review shouldn't come as a surprise, Augustine said.

"We are planning to spend billions of dollars on the human space flight program and it's wise to make sure we're spending that the way we should," he said. ""We have a new administration and it would probably be imprudent on their part not to examine this major of a program."

Click to enlarge the NASA artist concept of an Ares 1 rocket in the Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building.


Anonymous said...

FLT, how many times are you going to pring the same article? This is the fourth one in 2 days. All you seem to do is change the headline (not much) and wipe out the comments.

Todd Halvorson said...

Anonymous: The chairman of the panel spoke with the media for the first time today. We thought that was newsworthy.

Norman Augustine basically reiterated what the White House said Thursday regarding the review. Nonetheless, we thought it was important to let people know what he said.

Thanks for your feedback, though. We appreciate the input.

Anonymous said...

It was newsworthy, it backs up the previous information as well.. Thanks Todd!