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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 Solandri on 1/25/2010 1:47:43 PM , Rating: 2
I am not saying the stimulus plan is good, but you have to admit you're blaming Obama for something he did'nt decide by himself. They were all in on it, republicans included.

Personally I believe a stimulus plan was needed. But you are wrong here. Republicans generally tend to be against stimulus-type plans. Only 3 Republican Senators and no Representatives voted for the current stimulus plan. Even the stimulus plans which passed under Bush were opposed by a majority of Republicans.

Like I said, I think the majority of Republicans were wrong on this. But if you think the stimulus isn't working, don't blame the Republicans for passing it.

Further more, if Obama had done the exact opposite, and given Nasa tons of cash, I am pretty certain you would have been yelling against it too.

Well, generally that's true of everyone and everything. Everyone feels there's a certain right amount of funding for everything. Don't give it enough money and they yell at you. Give it too much money and they yell at you. The trick is to arrive at an amount of funding which generates the least amount of yelling.

You hate Obama. We get the point. If he gave you a brand new house on the beach you would probably tell him you hate the view.

I don't hate Obama. But if he gave me a brand new beach house, I would hate him because that's a profligate waste of money since I neither deserve one nor would I be able to use one to generate a return on the government's investment for it to make financial sense for them to give me that much taxpayer money. Actually, now that I say that, that's probably why some people seem to hate Obama for the stimulus. They think it was full of profligate wastes of money.

But it does'nt really say anything about the article we are talking about: will the private sector help space exploration get on track, or will it go nowhere?

I would say no, it will go nowhere. The private sector will develop launch vehicles to put satellites into orbit because it's a tried and true business model with predictable incomes and historically measurable risks. Exploration on the other hand is by its very definition a journey into the unknown which yields unknown returns. Business has a very difficult time making heads or tails of unknowns (it's why the amount of money invested in R&D varies wildly by company). Historically, it's traditionally been governments which spurred on and funded exploration.

"Well, there may be a reason why they call them 'Mac' trucks! Windows machines will not be trucks." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
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