NASA to Get More Money, but Must Scratch Moon Plan
Barack Obama is essentially grounding efforts to return astronauts to the moon and instead is sending NASA in new directions with roughly $6 billion more, according to officials familiar with the plans.
A White House official has confirmed that when the 2011 budget is proposed, NASA will get an additional $5.9 billion over five years, as first reported in Florida newspapers. Some of that money would extend the life of the International Space Station to 2020. It also would be used to entice companies to build private spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the space station after the space shuttle retires, said the official who was not authorized to speak by name.
The money in the president’s budget is not enough to follow through with NASA’s Constellation moon landing plan initiated by President George W. Bush. An aide to an elected official who was told of Obama’s plans, but who asked that his name not be used because of the sensitivity of the discussions, said Obama is effectively ending the return-to-the-moon effort, something that has already cost $9.1 billion.
A new direction for NASA has been on hold for several months while an independent commission studied options and the White House weighed them. Obama’s choice will be made clear in his 2011 budget proposal.
“It certainly appears that the Bush moon mission not going to be included” in future funding, said a senior NASA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the plans.
Space policy scholar John Logsdon, who was on an Obama space campaign advisory committee and has served on NASA advisory panels, said Obama is adopting the preferred option of a White House-appointed outside panel of experts last year. That concept includes reliance on a commercial spaceship, a space station that functions for five more years than planned, and a “flexible path” for human space exploration. That might mean trips to a nearby asteroid, a Martian moon or a brief visit to the moon, instead of the Bush plan for a moon base by the end of the decade.
“What kills the moon mission is the decision to extend the space station to 2020,” Logsdon said. That means the Bush goal of “moon by 2020 is dead. We can’t afford using the station for five more years and going to the moon.”
While the Constellation program “is dead, exploration is not dead and that’s really important,” Logsdon said.
Already proponents of the moon mission and thousands of workers in space centers in Florida, Alabama and Texas are upset. Congressional officials in those states have denounced such ideas and some of them sit on key committees where they could fight Obama’s plans. For example, Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., chairs the space subcommittee in the Senate. And the chairwoman of the House space subcommittee, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., is married to a space shuttle astronaut.
The budget numbers were first reported this week by the Orlando Sentinel and Florida Today.
In a statement, Representative Suzanne Kosmas, D-Fla., said, “The president’s proposal would leave NASA with essentially no program and no timeline for exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.”
Ken Matthews, a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Huntsville, AL, said his members worry about “jobs that won’t be there.”
If Obama does cancel the Constellation program, it “leaves NASA and the nation with no program, no plan and no commitment to any human spaceflight program beyond that of today,” said former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin in a statement.
He said this would be recommending “that the nation abandon its leadership on the space frontier,” Griffin said.
Associated Press writer Jay Reeves contributed from Birmingham, AL. Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.