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Tuesday, 02 February 2010 08:10

NASA Constellation program goes down

The Obama Administration has announced its 2011 NASA Budget. NASA calls the news its "Bold New Approach to Exploration" as the new, yet-to-be manned Constellation program is already DOA (Dead BefOre Arrival).

An overview of the NASA 2011 Budget, as proposed by the White House and the Obama Administration, and apparently approved by NASA administrator Charles Bolden, is found at Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Estimates.

Bolden stated, 'President Obama today has given us a bold challenge -- to become an engine of innovation, and the catalyst for an ambitious new space program that includes and inspires people around the world.' [NASA: 'Statement by Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, February 1, 2010, NASA Budget Press Conference']

As announced on Monday, February 1, 2010, The summary of the 2011 NASA Budget Report begins, 'Today we are launching a bold and ambitious new space initiative to enable us to explore new worlds, develop more innovative technologies, foster new industries, increase our understanding of the earth, expand our presence in the solar system, and inspire the next-generation of explorers'¦.'

Early on, the Report states that NASA will significantly invest in the following technologies:

'¢    Transformative technology development and flagship technology demonstrations to pursue new approaches to space exploration;
'¢    Robotic precursor missions to multiple destinations in the solar system;
'¢    Research and development on heavy-lift and propulsion technologies;
'¢    U.S. commercial spaceflight capabilities;
'¢    Future launch capabilities, including work on modernizing Kennedy Space Center after the retirement of the Shuttle;
'¢    Extension and increased utilization of the International Space Station;
'¢    Cross-cutting technology development aimed at improving NASA, other government, and commercial space capabilities;
'¢    Accelerating the next wave of Climate change research and observations spacecraft;
'¢    NextGen and green aviation; and
'¢    Education, including focus on STEM.
[STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics]

Some of the more interesting news from the Report is that statement that the Constellation program will be cancelled.

The Report states, 'The FY 2011 Budget cancels the Constellation program and provides $2.5 billion over two years for related facility and close-out costs including any increased cost for Shuttle transition due to Constellation cancellation.'

Page two continues with other announcements from the Report on the International Space Station and Commercial Developments in Space.

The 2-1-2010 Bloomberg article Obama Kills NASA Moon Plan, Farms Out Space Ferry states, that the NASA Constellation program, was over budget, behind schedule and lacking in innovation due to a failure to invest in critical new technologies."

And, 'Working with the Congress, NASA will strive to close out the existing Constellation contracts as soon as possible.'

With respect to the International Space Station (ISS), the Report states that money will be provided to:

'¢    Increase Station capabilities through upgrades to both ground support and onboard systems; and
'¢    Support ISS's national laboratory activities.

And, 'The goal will be to fully utilize the Station's R&D capabilities to conduct scientific research, improve our capabilities for operating in space, and demonstrate new technologies developed through NASA's other programs.'

With respect to the development of Commercial Endeavors in Space, the Report states that NASA's budget will dedicate ''¦ $6 billion over five years to spur the development of American commercial human spaceflight vehicles.'

The Report concludes by saying:

'Most important, we are not ending our ambitions to explore space. In order to explore new frontiers, we are launching a vigorous new technology development and test program that will pursue game-changing technology development that can take us further and faster and more affordably into space."

'NASA's new strategic approach will spawn exciting developments in research and technology that will make future spaceflight more affordable and sustainable, inspire a new generation of Americans, and increase our knowledge of the solar system and the universe of which we are a part.'

'This investment will ensure that future space explorers will have tools, capabilities and knowledge that we can only dream about today. NASA looks forward to working with the Congress and others to further the President's and the nation's goals for NASA.'

Page three talks about some of the more negative viewpoints about the announcement so far seen in the media reports--such terms as "death march" and "moon war" were mentioned.

Funny, though, some of the media reports arriving on February 1, 2010 don't seem to give such a rosy impression that this new direction of NASA is being happily received by everyone.

The 2.1.2010 Washington Post article 'Obama's proposed budget for NASA starts moon war on earth,' states, 'Key lawmakers are furious at the prospect of losing jobs and NASA dollars. Also in an uproar are companies that will see billions in expected contracts fail to materialize.'

U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby (Republican from Alabama, the home state of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntville) states, "The president's proposed NASA budget begins the death march for the future of U.S. human space flight. The cancellation of the Constellation program and the end of human space flight does represent change -- but it is certainly not the change I believe in." [Washington Post]

The 2.1.2010 New York Times article 'Obama Calls for End to NASA's Moon Program,' states, 'Whether Congress agrees to the restructuring of NASA remains to be seen. As reports of the impending cancellation of Constellation leaked out last week, members of Congress, particularly in Alabama, Florida and Texas, the homes of the NASA centers most involved with Constellation, expressed concern."

Commenting before the Report was released, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (Democrat from Florida, the home state of the NASA Kennedy Space Center) stated, 'If early reports for what the White House wants to do with NASA are correct, then the president's green-eyeshade-wearing advisers are dead wrong.' [New York Times]

The Bloomberg article, which was mentioned earlier, quoted U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, as did the Washington Post article, about the new proposal from the White House.

Shelby stated that if the Report is approved by the U.S. Congress, then NASA '... will be the agency of pipe dreams and fairy tales.'

In the CNN article 'Obama budget would cut moon exploration program,' John Pike, the director of GlobalSecurity.org and a space policy expert, was asked what happens to all of the money already spent on the now-defunct Constellation program.

He commented, 'I think that some of the things they're working on could be used regardless of what the program is. Some of it however, I think is just going to end up on the cutting room floor."

So, whatever will happen to NASA, I'm sure a lot of friendly and lively debates will ensue over the next several months on the future of NASA and U.S. manned space exploration--that is, if I'm not over stating the extremely obvious.

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