A 155-page report issued
in November 2009 by the Augustine Panel made a number of
recommendations on which direction to steer NASA in the future. The
recommendations included 1) hitching rides into space using
spacecraft from other nations or private contractors, 2) keeping the
Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs alive, albeit
in more limited roles, and 3) shifting the focus from returning to
the moon and instead aiming for Mars.
The Augustine Panel also made it clear
that the estimated $145 billion cost to return to the moon by 2020
would not be possible given NASA's $18.7 billion yearly allowance for
According to a new
report by Space News, it appears that the Ares 1 launch
vehicle and the Orion crew capsule may be put on the chopping block.
President Obama is not expected to give NASA the $1 billion increase
in its yearly budget that had been hoped for to help further develop
the Ares program.
President Obama's 2011 budget for NASA
aligns closely with the recommendations of the Augustine Panel. The
budget calls for the the use of commercial spacecraft and rockets to
carry astronauts into space instead of relying on the behind
schedule, cost-overrun Ares program. Another Augustine Panel
carryover is the decision to bypass the moon and instead gun for
near-Earth asteroids and onward to Mars.
Street Journal says that the efforts to initialize the
private sector -- including startup firms -- for carrying astronauts
into space will be a "multi-year, multi-billion-dollar
initiative". Private firms are expected to receive roughly $200
million during the first phase of the program. The total amount doled
out within the first five years could balloon to more than $3.5
billion according to sources familiar with the details of the budget.
The funds for the private ventures would be pulled from NASA's yearly
$18.7 billion budget.
Industry stalwarts like Boeing and
Lockheed Martin are expected to benefit from this new initiative, but
smaller firms like Space
Exploration Technologies would also be vying for NASA dollars.
Not surprisingly, there is opposition
to the there mere mention of NASA outsourcing crew vehicles to the
private sector. Charles Precourt, a senior exec at Alliant Tech
Systems remarked that such proposals are "really radical"
and that they are "extremely high risk". In addition,
Precourt said that whatever option is selected for the future
direction of NASA must be accompanied by a subsequent increase in its