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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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By knowom on 1/25/2010 1:28:40 PM , Rating: 2
Spending some of the NASA budget on the private sector is a great idea it'll force NASA to prioritize better and become competitive again like it originally was when NASA was ambiguous and willing to take risks in the spirit of competition and for the greater good of civilization.

This is just the kind of nudge NASA needs similar to how Intel needed one from AMD to become competitive again after the Prescott fiasco.

RE: bloated
By JediJeb on 1/26/2010 10:59:29 AM , Rating: 2
I am in favor of getting private industry into space big time. I think those that worked trying to win the Xprize have done some great work with what little they have invested compared to government run organizations. If you think about it airplanes got started by private citizens before the government got involved, so did automobiles and many other things that have really changed the way we do things. Virgin Galactic may only be looking at suborbital flights in the short term, but when they have people saying that isn't good enough and are willing to pay more for orbital rides, they will find a way to do it, because it will mean money for them. If NASA gives them money to take supplies to the ISS, then they will figure out how to do it if it will be profitable. Im sure Russia is not sending our stuff up there out of the good graces of their hearts, they just have a big headstart on the tech to do it so it.

Just like shipping, space will only boom when it is profitable. When the Americas were discovered there were small military expeditions here at first, but once it became profitable to ship resources from here back to Europe, the seas became filled with ships from private companies. The same will happen in space eventually, but there will need to be the spark to set it off, and unfortunately that will probably have to come from a government sponsored program like the early expeditions to the new world.

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