Wednesday, August 05, 2009

White House Panel Narrows Exploration Options

LIVE IMAGES: The images above are from live video feeds in the Launch Complex 39 area at Kennedy Space Center. They will automatically refresh to the most up-to-the-minute image every 30 seconds.

A presidential panel is starting to narrow a list of more than 3,000 options for NASA's future human spaceflight program, and they are outlining seven different scenarios that likely will be refined for presentation to President Obama.

Here's a look at the options. (Click to enlarge the NASA TV screen grab; apologies in advance for the fuzzy lettering).

The first would stretch out NASA's current "program of record" -- Project Constellation -- so it would fit within the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, which reduces from $108 billion to $81.5 billion the amount that will be available for human space exploration through 2020.

The second would focus on robust use of the International Space Station, extending through 2020 outpost operations. NASA would proceed with the development of the Ares I rocket to launch U.S. astronauts to the station as a precursor to missions beyond Earth orbit. Those missions would be pushed even further into the future.

Both the second and third options would fit within the existing budget projections. The third is to retire the shuttle and cease U.S. government station operations as planned in 2010 and 2015, respectively, and then "Dash Out Of LEO" -- explore Beyond Earth Orbiter as soon as possible. The Ares I would be killed under this option and NASA would proceed with the development of the heavy-lift Ares V.

The four following scenarios all would exceed current budget projections.

The fourth would extend shuttle fleet operations through 2015 and extend station operations through 2020, further pushing back exploration. A heavy-lift vehicle that is more "shuttle-derived" than Ares V would be pursued.

The fifth is the Deep Space Flyby scenario that would concentrate on flying missions to orbit -- but not land upon -- the moon, Mars and other near-Earth orbit objects. The shuttle fleet would be retired in 2011 and station operations would continue through 2020 under this option.

The sixth is an option to fly lunar sorties to many different sites on the moon, using the lunar surface as a testbed or proving ground for missions to Mars. The shuttle would be retired in 2010 and a heavy-lift launcher derived from the shuttle or the Atlas V or Delta IV would be developed.

The final option would be to go directly to Mars, bypassing the moon unless it made sense to fly a test mission to the lunar surface as a steppingstone to an expedition to the red planet.

The panel will meet again next Wednesday. We'll carry that hearing live here in The Flame Trench from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 12.


Don Nelson said...

There is another option for consideration, the Commercial Space Shuttle. See option at

Conor said...

I don't like option 5. What can astronauts do in orbit round the Moon and Mars, that robots can't?
Land on Mars and you do spend some time in 1/3 gravity, which has to be better than being in freefall for the entire mission, hasn't it?
As far as other near-Earth objects, it's more a matter of docking with them, not landing on them.

Anonymous said...

What? No Jupiter Direct! Oh, I forgot these options are based in reality. - Jim McDade

Charles Boyer said...

If they lower the budget for human exploration, you have to wonder if it is worth doing at all.

Really now. Either do it right or do not do it all.

The way this country handles spacefaring quite frankly makes me ashamed. They expect NASA to develop and operate cutting edge equipment and missions on a relative shoestring budget, the eviscerate them if any mistakes are made.