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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 commercialization of space exploration..
By wingless on 8/23/2009 6:40:38 PM , Rating: 1
I hope this move will lead to the privatization and commercialization of space exploration. Profit is a powerful motivator for the masses (science and the progress of mankind is apparently not)so hopefully companies will find ways to make money in space. Exploration and progress will be sped up as a result of this if all goes well(fingers crossed).

By joos2000 on 8/23/2009 8:25:21 PM , Rating: 2
Profit at the expensive of humanity is evil, yes.

RE: The commercialization of space exploration..
By MatthiasF on 8/24/2009 12:05:16 AM , Rating: 2
Where's the profit in space exploration?

A question that needs to be answered before the Government steps away from the en-devour.

By TMV192 on 8/24/2009 12:43:19 AM , Rating: 2
Well in terms of commercializing, really the profit will first be to compete for jobs requested by government agencies, then things like satellite launchers (not exploration but the R&D goes in the same direction), then tourism, LEO first but then to the moon and mars, etc. Of course once it becomes profitable to do so, there's always space mining, and things like heavy hydrogen on the moon for fusion power

RE: The commercialization of space exploration..
By Amiga500 on 8/24/2009 3:20:34 AM , Rating: 2
Where's the profit in space exploration?

Bringing back Helium 3 from the moon.

RE: The commercialization of space exploration..
By randomly on 8/24/2009 10:32:24 AM , Rating: 3
Mining Helium 3 on the moon for Fusion fuel is unfortunately a bogus argument. Helium 3 is advocated as a fusion fuel because when fused with Deuterium or itself it does not produce any neutrons that will need to be shielded against and make the materials they impact with radioactive. The reaction products are also all charged particles which can be directly converted to electrical energy instead of using a steam cycle powered by the heat.

However side reactions will still produce some neutrons. The much higher temperatures needed to get He3 to fuse are problematic and may not be achievable. Also the amount of He3 required is substantial and it may take more energy to mine it than it would produce in power plants.
The proton- Boron11 aneutronic reaction gets a lot more attention as the fuels are readily available, it's even more neutron free from side reactions, and the reaction products are 3 He nuclei with all about the same energy making direct conversion easier to implement.

Regardless we still don't even have a working D-T fusion reactor yet, there is no certainty that a He3 reactor is even feasible.

By SpaceJumper on 8/24/2009 11:06:54 AM , Rating: 2
By randomly on 8/24/2009 12:00:47 PM , Rating: 2
I want as much as the next space enthusiast to find a good reason to go to the moon, but this He3 mining on the moon is just grasping at straws in a desperate attempt to find some economic justification for lunar exploration.

Almost nobody in the fusion community is doing any research on He3-He3 fusion. All the aneutronic fusion research is focused on the p-11B reaction. It's even more neutron free than He3 and the fuel is cheap and readily available.

Tokamak reactors like ITER can't use He3 or any aneutronic fuels for that matter, the losses are too high and you can't make it work with any reactor with a thermalized plasma. The only types of fusion reactors that might be able to use those fuels are ones with anisotropic plasmas like the polywell, dense plasma focus, Field reversed configuration, colliding beam and other such variants. There is no assurance that any of these approaches can be made to work in an economically viable fashion.

If somebody can get a fusion reactor to run on p-B11 there is no reason to bother with He3.

RE: The commercialization of space exploration..
By ipay on 8/24/2009 6:20:59 AM , Rating: 2
There's no profit in space exploration per se.

However, there are massive profits to be made from space mining. If you refer to:

you'll see that NASA itself has estimated that the total wealth in our solar system's asteroids is approximately $100 billion for every one of the 6+ billion people on Earth - in other words, six hundred billion billion dollars in total.

If we ignore the purely monetary side and instead look at colonisation - it has been estimated that the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter could support a total human population of 7,500 trillion people.

By HotFoot on 8/24/2009 8:17:28 AM , Rating: 1
Time to mak-eh the babies.

By Yeco on 8/24/2009 8:55:20 AM , Rating: 2
That may all be true but with our current state of technology it would cost more to go and get it, then the price you can sell it. Even for Helium-3, a proces we don't controle yet!

By marvdmartian on 8/24/2009 9:46:30 AM , Rating: 2
Here's an idea. Why not add another solar panel onto the ISS, along with a humungous LED panel that would be the ultimate jumbo-tron? Then sell advertisement time to big corporations, who will pay to have thier company name in huge letters crossing the night time sky! Sort of like the Goodyear blimps do, only a factor of 100x larger!!!

Just think, you could take your kids out at night, and show them the feminine hygeine product or prophylactic commercials from space!!!!!

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer
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