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Tue, Feb 26, 2008

NASA Eyes Presidential Election For Hints Of Future Support

Ares Issues Threaten Moon Program

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration -- already hampered at times by the "analysis paralysis" that faces any agency relying on a political funding mechanism -- finally looks to be on track with a vision to return to the Moon, then Mars. But some fear the changing of the guard in the White House will plunge NASA back into the bog of indecision.

The Bush administration articulated the current game plan after critics said NASA had spent 30 years without a vision. But recently-revealed vibration problems with the Ares 1 rocket, and politicians' concerns over losing the pork involved in the shuttle program, are threatening to derail the plan.

As ANN reported, last month a group of scientists met behind closed doors at Stanford University to consider whether the inauguration of a new US president might be the time to revisit the plan.

They emerged with a resolution backing the current NASA vision, and a recommendation to commit another $3 billion per year to making it reality.

Scott Hubbard, former director of NASA's robotic Mars exploration program and a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, said the timing of such questions for NASA isn't by coincidence... and adds such discourse is healthy.

"My own opinion is the time is right for this kind of questioning to happen before the new administration takes office," Hubbard told Florida Today. "I started thinking last year, 'Gee, I wonder what will happen when the administration changes.' Many of us want to make sure we take a critical look at where we're going."

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin may or may not be retained by the next administration, but he hopes the current plan will stay on the rails, noting Congress debated for two years before approving it.

"Everybody needed to have their say. They did. We can't change our minds every three years and get anything done," he said.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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