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Ares 1-X launch; October 28, 2009  (Source: NASA)
Obama's 2011 budget proposal is expected to face stiff opposition

America's space program is at a crossroads. This year, the Space Shuttle fleet is expected to be retired after nearly 30 years of ferrying astronauts and equipment into space. In addition, there have been calls to have its immediate successor -- the Ares I launch vehicle which would be topped with an Orion crew capsule -- shelved altogether.

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 all operations.

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.

The Wall 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 budget.

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RE: I hate this administration
By amanojaku on 1/25/2010 9:31:24 AM , Rating: 2
A potential reason for investing in private firms instead of using government agencies is money. Few government agencies make money, and NASA is no exception. The government cannot afford to operate at a loss these days, and in general, so privatizing certain operations makes sense. A private company can offer services to both the government and the public with the potential for profit. And as an investor the government would get paid back if the company does well. Otherwise it's lost money just like what goes into NASA. Just a theory, anyway.

RE: I hate this administration
By AssBall on 1/25/2010 11:31:37 AM , Rating: 2
We could easily afford to operate NASA if we stopped wasting money on administration, finances, and social programs. 19 billion a year??? That is nothing, as the original poster pointed out. If we can spend ONE HUNDRED times that on useless new policies, I don't see how something that is actually beneficial has to suffer.

I may not agree specifically with how NASA manages their budget, but I'd sure be alot happier giving my money to them than the GM Union,Fanny Mac, Bureaucrats, and the like.

RE: I hate this administration
By mmatis on 1/25/2010 11:34:51 AM , Rating: 1
The government has repeatedly shown it has no concern about operating at a loss. Just look at HUD. Or any other fine government welfare deal. Osama is about to suck on a bunch of PowerPoint slides that haven't even taking paying passengers suborbital yet. Just shoveling money down a rat hole to buy some campaign donations. This will not end well. But then, that's probably what the Head Nanny What's In Charge is looking for.

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