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NASA will rely on contractors to help pick up additional tasks as the U.S. space agency deals with money issues

Facing growing financial issues that may eliminate future missions to the moon and Mars, NASA may be prepared to let private contractors have a larger role in its future space endeavors.

President Barack Obama hasn't made any official decisions regarding the future of NASA, but several unnamed government officials and other space experts claim the private sector will be responsible for a larger amount of NASA-backed missions.

Currently, each shuttle launch is government-led, including the use of the current space shuttle fleet, but cost restraints may end up crippling anticipated missions.  During the previous administration, former President George W. Bush outlined a plan for NASA to return to the moon, but Obama's blueprint involves $30 billion to $50 billion less than what was expected over the next decade.

Outsourcing work to the private sector would allow the federal government to save the $30 billion to $50 billion, with contractors expected to help develop rocket-propulsion technology and plan manned launches to Mars.

As space nations outline plans to return to the moon by 2025, NASA is unlikely to launch a manned mission to the moon by 2020, as necessary funding will simply be unavailable.  The U.S. space agency is currently unable to finance any manned launches anywhere past the International Space Station (ISS) at the moment, according to former astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, who said NASA "just can't get there," regarding the moon.

Once the current space shuttle fleet is retired -- which is expected to take place in 2010 -- private contractors will help NASA get back to the ISS, along with the Russian space agency.

If NASA continued with its current budget, a return back to the moon wouldn't be possible until 2028, if not later.

Obama recently put together the Human Space Flight Committee of space experts and politicians to study how feasible it would be to launch towards the moon or Mars, but "at the end of the day, the President will make the decision, not a committee."

Until a final decision is made, the future of the U.S. space agency remains extremely confusing for the public, politicians, and contractors who may be called upon to help NASA with future space missions.

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the day will come
By mforce on 8/23/2009 4:36:00 PM , Rating: 4
when we'll see Made in China on the space shuttle. Oh well, everything else is anyway ....

RE: the day will come
By mmntech on 8/23/2009 5:22:11 PM , Rating: 5
[in a broad Indian accent] Yes, hello, my name is Steve. Thank you for calling NASA tech support. How can I help you with your space shuttle today? Canadarm is stuck? Ok, press control-alt-delete....

RE: the day will come
By quiksilvr on 8/23/09, Rating: 0
RE: the day will come
By Breathless on 8/24/09, Rating: 0
RE: the day will come
By FITCamaro on 8/23/09, Rating: 0
RE: the day will come
By Ralos on 8/23/2009 11:58:37 PM , Rating: 5
Hey FIT, why don't you go register to a political website and post your comments there?

Seems to me that more than half of your comments are about government (democrats) bashing, the other half about those stupid environmentalists.

Anybody who's been here for more than a couple of months know your point of view. Tell us something new or useful.

RE: the day will come
By TSS on 8/24/09, Rating: -1
RE: the day will come
By Titanius on 8/24/2009 8:21:02 AM , Rating: 1
Yeah I agree with Ralos; FIT, stop stating the obvious.

RE: the day will come
By randomly on 8/24/2009 9:54:09 AM , Rating: 2
Obama may still maintain NASA funding and keep his promise. The problem is the current Ares I/V program requires large funding increases to make it executable.

Actually it was Bush that messed this up. It was Bush's Vision for Space Exploration that required large budget increases and cancellation of the shuttle and deorbiting the ISS in 2015 to pay for the very expensive Ares I/V program. Development of the Ares I and the enormous Ares V and their support infrastructures is so expensive there would be no money left to do any missions with them. After tasking NASA with an unsustainable goal not only were there no budget increases to cover the program but funding cuts were started under Bush.

The budget increases are just not going to come out of congress under the current economy, or even a better economy. The current NASA program is not even close to executable with the current level of funding, and there will be something like an $80 Billion shortfall by 2020.

Obama at least put the Augustine commission together and they will hopefully come up with some more efficient and sustainable space programs that can be accomplished within the current budget. Cancellation of Ares I is almost a certainty. Hopefully also the Ares V will be canceled and replaced with a smaller Shuttle Derived Launch vehicle that is much more economical to develop and fly. Preferably an inline design that has a much larger payload volume and fairing size, and the safety and lift capacity advantages over the NASA proposed NSC.

At any rate it was Bush that drove NASA toward the edge of the cliff with an unsustainable program, Obama is just trying to keep it from going over the edge.

RE: the day will come
By stromgald30 on 8/24/2009 1:48:26 PM , Rating: 2
So . . . you think the Ares/Constellation concept is too expensive?!?! Maybe you should check the numbers and get your spin from somewhere other than Obama's a##. I'm not going to bash him or the Democrats controlling Congress, but despite what you've convince yourself of, Obama's no saint or savior.

The Ares program was just about the most economical choice, and certainly less expensive than any 'shuttle' concept. A shuttle allows for technical capability and flexibility, but is also much, much more complex and costly.

As far as the ISS is concerned . . . it is going to reach the end of it's planned service life. Bush didn't extend it because his committees recommended scrapping the station since the ISS has been flawed ever since that compromise of orbit inclination to appease the Russians.

The facts are that Obama is pinching NASA's already meager funding to help his plethora of other programs. Bush's plan was to overhaul the shuttle fleet, which is a daunting and costly task in of itself, and it was squeezed into NASA's tight budget at the expense of many other projects. There simply aren't any other possible designs that would be cheaper without significantly reducing capability.

RE: the day will come
By randomly on 8/24/2009 10:09:33 PM , Rating: 2
You're agenda seems to be just anti-obama rhetoric from a position of ignorance with no actual basis for your statements. Not even one of your statements is correct.

Let me start by saying that I do not believe Obama is a saint or savior of NASA. It remains to be seen if he will be more or less supportive than Bush. He has made no
decisions on a monetary basis at all yet, but he did put together the Augustine commission to review the Human Space Flight program which was desperately needed. The problems facing NASA are there regardless of who is currently president.

I get none of my information from any political party but from the people insider NASA, contractors, and people in the aerospace industry. If you actually wanted to learn something about the situation you might want to look into the Augustine commission hearings. Videos here

'The facts are that Obama is pinching NASA's already meager funding to help his plethora of other programs.'

This statement is just blatantly false since no decision on whether to increase or decrease NASA's future budget has even been made or announced and the administration is still involved in fact finding and analysis. Is it wishful thinking on your part or are you just parroting what you've heard elsewhere?

The Ares program is not even close to the most economical choice, it was driven more by a CYA attitude about launch risks driven by public reaction to the Columbia and Challenger losses and probably also an appeal to ego in that Ares V would be by far the largest rocket ever built by man.
The reasoning went something like this. Probabilistic Risk Assessment tells you that the simplest vehicle should be the safest (all other things being equal). This leads to the Ares I concept of using a single SRB first stage and a second stage with a single engine (originally it was an SSME - space shuttle main engine) to launch only the crew capsule and nothing else since you're limited to about 25mt lift capacity to LEO with such a launcher. Everything else including the Altair lander and the Earth Departure Stage would then be launched by an Ares V. This however requires a very large launcher with enormous lift capacity in the 180mt range.
Originally there was supposed to be some commonality between the rockets and the legacy shuttle launch hardware but all this has been lost because of technical problems, performance shortfalls, and budgetary constraints.

Ares I/V program calls for development of two totally new rockets that require separate and unique production, handling, and launch facilities and support. The Ares I reproduces the launch capability that we already have in the Delta IV and Atlas V vehicles. The Ares I requires development of a new solid rocket booster and a new upperstage engine. The Ares V requires 2 different new engine designs (always a long pole), new infrastructure to manufacture and handle the 10m diameter tanks (as opposed to the shuttle 8.4m ET). New 5 1/2 segment solid rocket boosters with new propellant, and new core geometry. The extreme weight looks like it will require a new crawler, and a new crawler way. Projected development costs are 35 Billion, launch costs for ARES V are now estimated at 1400 million per launch.

The theory that Ares I will be safer is now under considerable doubt. Performance limitations of Ares I have caused numerous safety systems to be removed from Orion in order to reduce weight. Thrust oscillation problems that cause shaking so severe it could kill the crew are still not resolved, the proposed mitigation options cause even more performance penalties. The high G/ high dynamic pressure flight profile due to the SRB first stage is causing numerous problems. One is the acoustic environment is so severe that it will damage the avionics system. A more severe problem is the recently release Air Force analysis that shows an abort in the 30-60 second range after lift off results in 100% crew fratricide because the Launch Abort System cannot pull the crew capsule far enough away from the debris cloud of burning solid propellant chunks. The radiant heat from the burning solid fuel will melt the parachute on the crew capsule. There is no mass margin left in the launcher to substantially increase the size of the LAS.

A much less expensive approach is to abandon the 1.5 launch approach for a 2 launch approach. Design and build a single 100mt launcher instead of a 25mt and a 180mt launcher. It could be much more directly shuttle derived, use SSME which are already man rated, qualified and in production. Use the current 4 segment RSRM which are already man rated, qualified and in production. Use an 8.4m tank so the existing tooling and handling equipment for the Shuttle ET can be used. The mission load is split up more evenly, one launcher carries Orion and the crew with the Altair lander, the other carries the Earth departure stage.
You only need one set of launch support infrastructure and support crew. You gain economies of scale since you are flying much more often, and also improving safety because you gain flight history at least twice as fast. You get huge savings from avoiding development costs by using more legacy hardware.

ISS will only be completed in 2010, it would not be at the end of it's service life by 2015 at all. The only reason proposed for the early abandonment was to redirect the 3 Billion per year in support costs towards the Ares I/V program that is sucking all the air out of the room. That's even after the vaguely promised 6 billion a year NASA budget increase that is magically supposed to show up. There is almost no chance ISS will be decommissioned in 2015, politically it's just not going to happen. It will get extended to 2020 at least.

The shuttle is a dead end. It was supposed to give us cheap and regular access to space but it achieved neither. Operating costs turned out to be about 10 times higher than originally envisioned. It only goes to Low Earth Orbit. If we want to get out of LEO we need something else. At least a 50-70mt HLV of some kind. Preferably an inline design with an 8-12 meter diameter fairing (volume is often more important than lift capacity.)

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson
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