Tuesday, May 05, 2009

White House to review NASA's moonshot program

This just in from James Dean

President Obama will order a comprehensive review of NASA's plans to return astronauts to the moon when the agency's proposed 2010 budget is released Thursday.

Expected to last 60 to 90 days, the independent review will examine designs for the launch and exploration vehicles proposed for use by the Constellation program and the timeframe for flying lunar missions, according to sources familiar with the budget planning but not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Norman Augustine, a retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp. and former president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, an industry association, is the likely candidate to lead the study, the sources said.

Augustine could speak publicly about the review as early as Friday.

Current NASA plans call for missions to the moon by 2020, a target set by the space exploration vision established in 2004 by former President George W. Bush.

But the agency last month put on hold contract awards for preliminary designs of the Ares V heavy-lift rocket and Altair lunar lander, pending release of the budget.

The coming five-year budget reduces the funding planned for Constellation starting in 2013, when development budgets were expected to start growing to cover components needed for lunar missions, sources said.

The Ares I rocket and Orion capsule, which are being developed to start flying crews to the International Space Station as early as 2015, are not likely to be ready on schedule without significant funding increases, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In its own internal study, the Constellation Acceleration Study, the space agency said it was at least $1.9 billion short of the funding needed to keep the program on track let alone speed it up.

(See that Constellation Acceleration Report by clicking here).

The cost to reach the first human flight in 2010 has increased from about $28 billion to about $36 billion, and NASA said recently that it would reduce the number of seats on the Orion capsule from six to four to maintain its timeline.

Obama so far has shown no intention of extending shuttle missions, which are scheduled to end next year after eight or nine more flights.

At least 3,500 Kennedy Space Center employees could lose jobs after the last mission in late 2010, according to NASA projections.

The agency recently submitted more detail to Congress about two options for extending the shuttle's service life.

One would add three flights and extend the shuttle through 2012 for an additional $4.7 billion, according to NASA's report.

The other, to fly three missions a year through 2015 and potentially eliminate a gap in U.S. human spaceflight, would cost an extra $14 billion.

(See that shuttle extension study report by clicking here).

The studies were prepared in response to questions from members of Congress who have expressed interest in possibly extending the space shuttle program to shorten the gap before a new vehicle is ready. However, the NASA study noted that without significant increases in funding, extending the shuttle program would not solve the long-term problem. The gap, the study said, would "simply be shifted out, not shortened."

During the roughly five-year hiatus currently projected, NASA would rely on Russian Soyuz vehicles to ferry crews to the space station.

A White House spokesman declined to comment Tuesday on the forthcoming Constellation review.

"The U.S. human space flight program is a very high priority and the Administration believes it is extremely important to ensure that the nation is on a vigorous and sustainable path to achieving its boldest aspirations in space," the spokesman said.

This report contains reporting from James Dean reporting from Cape Canaveral and Eun Kim reporting from Washington.

IMAGE NOTE: Inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, crews finish installing a roll control system module in a segment of the rocket being prepared for the first flight test of the Ares project. Ares I-X is the test vehicle for the launcher that NASA envisions to launch a new crew vehicle, Orion, to the space station and ultimately on the first leg of missions to the moon. The test flight is set for August of this year. The picture was taken by NASA's Dimitri Gerondidakis.


Anonymous said...

Bye bye NASA.... you people asked for this when you elected Obama. Now you you can live with it, without jobs.

But that's what you wanted when you voted for Obama.

Anonymous said...

JFK made a commitment to America that this country would land on the Moon, and return the crew back to Earth safely by the end of the Decade of the 60's.

The advancement of this country since then, when it comes to technology, medical, safety, and health advancements can ALL be traced back to OUR Space program.

JFK must be turning in his grave, because we now have a democrat President that stands for nothing more than opposite of what Kennedy stood for.

OBAMA wants to kill the space program...under his watch, ACORN gets more funding.

Just WHAT has ACORN done for this country, and do they get TAXPAYER funding ???

Mark Lopa said...

The shuttle program must be extended. The gap must be narrowed, if not eliminated. As the Constellation program gets delayed, which it will, the gap will widen and our dependance on and money to Russia to get Americans into space will increase as well. This is what we want? To rely on Russia to put Americans in space and travel to the ISS which the U.S. practically built alone?

I blame Bush for creating such a ridiculous timetable, but blame Obama just as much for sticking to it and not having the courage to make a change.

Anonymous said...

Most folks from KSC didn't vote for the "Dear Leader" except the union thugs. Just watch, the last shuttle flight will be the last flight of an American astronaut on an American ship. Dear Leader will kill Constellation and kill the Human Space Flight for the USA forever. Anyway, the paltry billions NASA uses (yes, I said "paltry cause this congress has no hesitation to spend trillions on their friends) can support a lot of welfare voters for the Dear Leader.

Anonymous said...

America voted Opromise into office (not that there was much choice from the repukes)... NASA is history now... No more shuttle flights, no more moon missions, Mars crap is a joke, its over NASA... And it all started with GWBUSH! He hated America from the start because America voted against his DADDY! He started this no gay marriage crap thing, NOW America will continue to suffer. Jobs gone, Space PRogram a JOKE, and OPROMISE wanting to cancel program to send the BILLIONS of bucks overseas to HIS FAMILY in AFRICA / Muslim WORLD... America continues to ask for it for being stupid!!!

Anonymous said...

This is the beginning of the end of United States manned spaceflight. It is going to be like 1975 all over again around here.

Rick Boozer said...

This sorry situation was caused by NASA choosing an architecture based on saving shuttle related jobs in key congressional districts and discarding more efficient and less costly options for getting back to the moon. The result is that they have thrown away billions while simultaneously letting their schedule slip. These were mistakes made LONG before Obama took office.

Anonymous said...

Let's not panic - yet. Might this be an historic opportunity to move away from government monopoly on manned space flight and move towards commercial service??? From the disaster that was Challenger we got commercial launches of satellites (at least it accelerated what was already happening) and maybe from the disaster that was Columbia we might get commercial manned space flight.

I would hope that Norm might recomment launching people on the EELV - which would open the opportunity for some of them to be sold to the gov't and some used for commercial launches. Especially if our buddies the Russians raise the price of each seat, again, we might be able to fly an EELV (with a lot of the qualification work paid for by the gov't) with three paying people - at perhaps 25 million a seat?

Almost certainly, the era of NASA manned space flight is near the end. The Constellation program is going to fade away and Obama is scrambling for something to claim is it's replacement. Something that will fly when he is safely retired to the speaking circuit.

John Kavanagh said...

The White House needs to get NASA out of the space launch provider business and start leveraging private launch operators to loft elements of a human spaceflight program.

If the Defense and Intelligence communities don't need a vertically integrated government-run space launch operation to loft multi-billion dollar spacecraft to orbit, than why should NASA?

$40+ billion for NASA to develop Ares 1 when the Delta IV Heavy EELV, with development cost sunk, is already flying with lift capacity adequate for Orion should have made Constellation Dead on Arrival.

Only a Congress and NASA more interested in preserving pork Space Shuttle program jobs would choose to waste that much taxpayer money on Ares when an alternative heavy lift rocket was already flying and available.

If NASA had focused on what it does well, namely cutting edge space exploration and science, it could have had Orion designed and built in time to fly on EELVs by Shuttle retirement in 2010.

Anonymous said...

Naysayers all sound like morons.

Anonymous said...

"Naysayers all sound like morons."
That's just an opinion with no statement of facts to back it up.

Anonymous said...

If Soyuz is good enough for the next five years, why can't we just use them for now on? We want commercial access to space - and maybe we have already found it.

Anonymous said...

Putting people into space is dangerous - we have lost too many astronauts already. Let someone else go into space and we'll just get new stuff from them.

Charles Boyer said...

"Putting people into space is dangerous - we have lost too many astronauts already. Let someone else go into space and we'll just get new stuff from them."

I am very relieved that there was no Internet to propagate ideas like that in the early 20th century.

"Flying on airplanes is dangerous - we have lost too many pilots already. Let someone else go into the sky and we'll just get new stuff from them."

See how ridiculous that sounds?

Anonymous said...

The economy is bad and is partly the blame for NASA's current situation. You need to examine closely the manager's and director's at NASA and USA. Poor management of the shuttle program, including cost overruns where allowed to suck the program dry. The decision to eliminate government direct oversight and involvement of Safety and Quality in the program has not saved the program any money. It made the program more costly and procured extreme risk. Least we forget the loss of the Columbia and it's Crew!? The result of POOR MANAGEMENT DECISIONS.

Ji Ji Park said...

I agree with most of the sentiments. The space program was one of the best investments in history. Where has all the war spending landed us?
aerospace hardware

Ji Ji Park said...

I agree with most of the sentiments. The space program was one of the best investments in history. Where has all the war spending landed us?
aerospace hardware