NASA’s plans to fly to the moon and Mars are under threat from a lack of funds and the space agency needs another three billion dollars for its dreams to become reality, a presidential panel said.
In a 12-page summary report released Tuesday offering a bleak assessment of plans to send astronauts back to the moon, the committee said the space agency would need the three billion dollars on top of its 18-billion-dollar budget to meet its ambitious targets.
“Space operations become all the more difficult when means do not match aspirations,” the committee wrote. “Such is the case today.”
As US president in 2004, George W. Bush launched a program dubbed Constellation with the goal of returning to the moon by 2020 and then establishing a lunar launchpad for a first trip to Mars.
But in an executive summary of its report, a White House commission named by Bush’s successor Barack Obama to review the US manned space program, said the current schedule was unachievable.
The committee recommended a “flexible path” that could explore the inner solar system with a “possible rendezvous with Mars’ moons or human lunar return by the mid to late 2020s.”
A full report was due to be released later this month.
NASA offered various scenarios for a possible continuation of the program, but cautioned that “whatever space program is ultimately selected it must be matched with the resources needed for its execution.”
The report also urged the US space agency to enlist other countries in human space exploration as a possible way to finance its programs, as well as possible ventures launched with private companies.
“Actively engaging international partners in a manner adapted to today’s multi-polar world could strengthen geopolitical relationships, leverage global resources and enhance the exploration enterprise,” it said.
Leading a “bold” effort to work with other countries in the space exploration effort could lead to “substantial benefits to foreign relations,” the report added.
Working with commercial partners would also lead to cost-cutting, the panel said, and could spur the US space effort with technology innovation.
Guaranteed contracts awarded by the federal government may also prompt a surge in private interest in the field.
Such a move “has the potential to stimulate a vigorous and competitive commercial space industry,” the report said, noting that the agency’s ability to focus on “cutting edge technologies and concepts.”
If appropriately funded, the committee recommended a program to “re-engage the minds” at US universities and in the private space industry.
Other questions addressed by the panel deal with the future of the soon-to-be-retired US space shuttles, which at present are due to be permanently grounded sometime in 2011, although the panel said that period could be extended to 2015.
The report also explores the future of the International Space Station and the feasibility of space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.
earlier related report
CSF And Next Step in Space Coalition Welcome White House Support For Commercial Spaceflight
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation and the Next Step in Space Coalition welcome the strong support of commercial spaceflight expressed by the White House’s Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, also known as the Augustine Committee for its Chairman, former aerospace industry executive Norm Augustine. The Augustine Committee, in the “Key Findings” section of its summary report released yesterday, stated, “commercial services to deliver crew to low-Earth orbit are within reach… [and] could provide an earlier capability at lower initial and lifecycle costs than government could achieve. A new competition with adequate incentives should be open to all U.S. aerospace companies. This would allow NASA to focus on more challenging roles, including human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.” Bretton Alexander, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, stated, “A full Commercial Crew program would leverage private investment to create thousands of jobs in states including Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Texas, California, and Alabama. Both large and medium-sized companies have expressed interest in participating, including United Launch Alliance with 4000 employees, Sierra Nevada Corporation with 1600 employees, and SpaceX with 800 employees, all companies that have built and flown space hardware in orbit.” Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, stated, “The Augustine Committee is sending an unambiguous message that commercial human space transportation is an important ingredient in future U.S. human space exploration plans. The Committee recognizes that in addition to the cost savings and reducing the gap in U.S. spaceflight capability that supporting U.S. commercial human space transportation will promote competition and create critical high tech jobs at home.” Mark Sirangelo, Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and Chairman of Sierra Nevada Space Systems, added, “Commercial Crew will fill an urgent need. Currently, when the Space Shuttle retires in 2011, the U.S. will purchase seats on Russian Soyuz vehicles to send our astronauts to the $100 billion Space Station, sending our funds overseas at the price of at least $51 million per seat. Commercial crew will promote greater competition, create new high tech jobs in the U.S. and prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from being sent overseas.” “The commercial spaceflight sector appreciates today’s strong endorsement and validation by the Augustine Committee of our industry, and we look forward to strengthening our partnerships with NASA and the US Government to help deliver cargo, fuel, and crew to the International Space Station and for other Low Earth Orbit missions. Commercial Crew in Low Earth Orbit is complementary, not competitive, to NASA exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit,” added Sirangelo.