(Source: NASA)
Fly me to the moon...

Last week, DailyTech reported that the Obama administration was thinking long and hard about going with some of the recommendations of the Augustine Panel with regards to funding NASA. Two of the recommendations that the administration was reported to implement were the elimination of the Ares program and diverting funds to bolster space vehicles developed by the private sector.

President Obama's budget request for 2011 confirms these previous reports [PDF], and anyone that was hoping that the U.S. would head back to the moon at some point will have to instead set your sights on a further target: Mars. NASA will not be receive the estimated $3 billion yearly boost in funding needed to head back to the moon which effectively kills off the Constellation Program (the Ares I/Ares V booster rockets and the Orion crew capsule).

The following comes from the fiscal 2011 budget guidance:

The Administration proposes to cancel the Constellation Systems program intended to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020 and replaces it with a bold new approach...

In place of Constellation, the President’s Budget funds a redesigned and reinvigorated program that focuses on leveraging advanced technology, international partnerships, and commercial capabilities to set the stage for a revitalized human space flight program for the 21st Century. The President’s Budget will also increase NASA’s funding, accelerating work -- constrained for years due to the budget demands of Constellation -- on climate science, green aviation, science education, and other priorities.

The Obama administration instead will fund research into technology that would be used for a manned mission to Mars. An estimated $6 billion will be dispersed to the private sector to develop "space taxis" to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and back.

The reaction to the Obama's administrations decision to 1) axe a return trip to the moon in order to focus on Mars and 2) look to the private sector for reusable space vehicles has brought swift and furious reaction from some of those with close ties to the American space program.

"I, for one, intend to stand up and fight for NASA, and for the thousands of people who stand to lose their jobs," said Senator Bill Nelson (Democrat, Florida). Nelson served as a captain in the U.S. Army during the late 60s and early 70s -- he also participated in a 1986 space shuttle mission (STS-61C) as a payload specialist.

"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," said former NASA chief Michael Griffin. "The path that they're on with this budget is a path that can't work."

Griffin also lambasted the move to use commercial space vehicles, exclaiming, "One day it will be like commercial airline travel, just not yet. It's like 1920. Lindbergh hasn't flown the Atlantic, and they're trying to sell 747s to Pan Am."

Not all reaction to the move has been negative, however. Not surprisingly, Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) president Bretton Alexander championed the move, stating, "NASA investment in the commercial spaceflight industry is a win-win decision. Commercial crew will create thousands of high-tech jobs in the United States, especially in Florida, while reducing the spaceflight gap and preventing us from sending billions to Russia."

The CSF is an industry association committed to promoting the development and safety of commercial human spaceflight. Some of the big names involved with the CSF include SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Spaceport America.

Perhaps more poignantly, CSF executive director John Gedmark remarked, "The Defense Department began using commercial rockets a long time ago to launch priceless national security satellites, that our troops' lives depend on. If the Pentagon can trust private industry with this responsibility, we think NASA can, too."

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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