Manned Spaceflight In Jeopardy Given Current NASA Budget
The Obama Administrations' Human
Spaceflight Commission, also known as The Augustine Commission
after its chairman Norman Augustine, will tell the administration
that NASA's budget constraints make the continuation of human
spaceflight almost impossible to sustain, putting plans for a
return to the moon or a mission to Mars in doubt.
After its final meeting Wednesday, the committee concluded that
NASA's existing plans for manned space exploration are "not
executable" given the budget constraints placed on the agency by
the Administration. In jeopardy are a planned $80 million space
capsule program, as well as development of the next generation of
launch vehicles needed for manned missions to the moon or Mars.
Among other scenarios that will be presented to the
administration are utilizing existing shuttle technology to
continue to place people in low earth orbit, with the possibility
of orbiting refueling stations for missions to explore asteroids or
deeper into space. Using derivatives of existing military rockets
is also a possibility. International pressure to continue funding
for ISS could drain additional funds from any future manned flight
The Wall Street Journal reports that former astronaut Sally
Ride, a member of the commission, said while all of the options
discussed recognize the importance of supporting ISS with delivery
of cargo and crew, "we need to get NASA out of the business of
getting crew" into low earth orbit. "(E)xploration doesn't look
viable" given the state of NASA's current budget, she said. The
commission will recommend boosting the existing $9 billion budgeted
for manned flight by 25-50 percent in the coming years.
Also at risk is Alliant Techsystems, the developer of solid
rocket boosters for the Ares I and Ares V that were seen as being
the space programs workhorses following retirement of the shuttle.
The Ares I would ferry crew and cargo to ISS, and the Ares V was
being designed for Lunar or Martian missions. The WSJ reports that
the discussions Wednesday seemed to favor startup companies like
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX).
Ares V Artists Rendering
The Air Force could also benefit from NASA's problems, if the
Administration decides to shift money from NASA to upgrades in the
military's launch systems. Money currently spent on NASA could be
used to upgrade the Air Force Space Command Delta IV and Atlas V
Some of the recommendations involved major layoffs and a
restructuring of NASA's industrial base, which drew a cautionary
note from Ms. Ride. "We shouldn't underestimate the magnitude of
the repercussions" of such a move, she said.