President-Elect Obama's transition team is planning to scrap NASA's Ares program, the successor to the Space Shuttle, say NASA advisors. The transition team is demanding deep cuts from the agency, and is investigating whether old military rockets such as the Delta IV and Atlas V could be used in place of Ares.
NASA plans a permanent moon base by 2020, followed by a manned mission to Mars; plans which the agency says require Ares.
The Space Shuttle is due to make its last flight in 2010. Without a replacement, NASA may be without a manned space capability entirely, for the first time since the 1960s, a gap that NASA says would destroy the U.S.'s primacy in space technology.
Prior news reports have hinted at a great deal of tension between Obama's team and NASA, a report that NASA Administrator Michael Griffon has denied.
On the campaign trail, Obama blew both hot and cold on plans for NASA's budget. In the NASA-friendly states of Texas and Florida, he promised to expand NASA's budget by more than 10%. In other states, however, he promised cuts and delays to the agency, in order to help fund his education policies.
Lori Garver, a space policy advisor for Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, was selected by Obama to lead the NASA review transition team. Despite being criticized for her lack of an engineering or scientific background, Garver has been called a favorite to be the next NASA Administrator.
Ares program manager Steve Cook says that, with Ares due for its first test flight next summer, halting the program now would be an expensive mistake. "We would be really stepping backwards" by opting for a different launch platform.
Space Historian Andrew Chaikin said that, "Obama's first priority for NASA should be to get the Shuttle's replacement on track".