Funding for Manned Lunar Missions Absent in FY2011 Budget Proposal
By Alec Rivera
Published: February 3, 2010
The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration is deviating from President Bush’s plans to put American back on the Moon, nixing funding which was essential to any future manned lunar missions. The numbers are so difficult for NASA that is could end the Constellation program, which would have put Americans back on the Moon by 2020.
Even though there is a slight increase over NASA’s current budget of $18.7 billion proposed in FY2011, it is not enough to fund the systems, research, and development required to sustain a manned lunar mission. NASA will also be unable to develop the Ares I rocket, the replacement for the Space Shuttle, on schedule. As President Obama’s budget makes it’s way to Congress however, changes are sure to be made; the question for NASA now is whether it can muster enough support for manned and lunar space exploration to warrant an increase over the proposed budget.
Obama’s budget, according to a background briefing by an administration official on Sunday, will call for spending $6 billion over five years to develop a commercial spacecraft that could taxi astronauts into low Earth orbit. Going commercial with a human crew would represent a dramatic change in the way NASA does business. Instead of NASA owning the spacecraft and overseeing every nut and bolt of its design and construction, a private company would design and build the spacecraft with NASA looking over its shoulder.
Former NASA administrator Michael Griffin, who championed the Constellation program, views the Obama budget as disastrous for human space flight.
“It means that essentially the U.S. has decided that they’re not going to be a significant player in human space flight for the foreseeable future. The path that they’re on with this budget is a path that can’t work,” Griffin said, anticipating the Monday announcement.
He said that, although he pushed for seed money for commercial cargo flights to space, he doesn’t believe that the commercial firms, such as SpaceX and Dulles-based Orbital Sciences, are ready to take over the risky and difficult job of ferrying human beings to orbit.
“One day it will be like commercial airline travel, just not yet,” Griffin said. “It’s like 1920. Lindbergh hasn’t flown the Atlantic, and they’re trying to sell 747s to Pan Am.”
Defenders of the plan, however, say that the maturity of the commercial spaceflight industry is severely underestimated. They cite the Pentagon’s use of commercial rockets to launch the satellites they depend on for military use. President Obama’s proposal would increase NASA’s budget by roughly $1 billion per year; a significant amount, but far less than the $3 billion President Obama’s human spaceflight panel said would be necessary for NASA to operate a competitive program.
Photo (via Parabolic Arc)