The stories are flying. NASA’s newest rockets may not be.
The Obama White House is due to deliver its new budget on Monday, and while officials there are saying very little, various reports say it will kill the Constellation Program — the plan, ordered by President Bush in 2004, to replace the space shuttles, return astronauts to the moon and eventually send them on to Mars.
The Orlando Sentinel, citing anonymous sources, said NASA may get a modest budget increase (unlike a lot of other agencies facing freezes), but certainly not the $3 billion extra that Obama’s own space-advisory panel said last year was needed to make Constellation viable.
“There will be no lunar landers, no moon bases, no Constellation program at all,” write Robert Block and Mark K. Matthews in the Sentinel.
“In their place, according to White House insiders, agency officials, industry executives and congressional sources familiar with Obama’s long-awaited plans for the space agency, NASA will look at developing a new “heavy-lift” rocket that one day will take humans and robots to explore beyond low Earth orbit. But that day will be years — possibly even a decade or more — away.” The full piece is HERE.
Keeping the space shuttles flying is pretty much out of the question; NASA has already started winding down the program. After the five remaining flights this year, it will, for instance, be out of the one-time-use external fuel tanks for any more launches.
The new Ares rockets were already behind schedule and considered likely candidates for cancellation, even before last fall’s test launch of the Ares 1-X.
The International Space Station, still not finished, may actually get new life from all this. It was slated to be ditched in the Pacific in 2015, but since it’s already cost something like $100 billion, the administration may decide to keep it operating for an extra five years.
And how to get astronauts to and from it without depending solely on other countries? This may be the biggest battle of all. There are numerous reports (take a look at the Wall St. Journal) suggesting the administration may outsource the astronaut business — provide more funding to private companies that hope to do the flying.
There’s one giant caveat here: many in Congress are against yet another change in direction for the space program, and in tough times, the administration has other priorities. (Top: NASA artwork: Ares 1-X rocket on launch pad.)