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Will the United States Return to the Moon?

Rumors suggest that the Obama administration won’t fund NASA’s lunar plans.
January 27, 2010

President Obama is set to announce his 2011 budget on Monday, February 1, and reports accross the Web suggest it won’t be good news for NASA.

According to CBS News and the Los Angeles Times, sources in the White House have said that the president’s budget will not allocate the money needed for NASA to return humans to the moon as outlined in the agency’s Constellation program.

Instead, according to these unnamed insiders, the White House wants to concentrate on Earth-science projects like climate change research and the development of new technology–possibly a heavy-lift rocket–that could someday enable human exploration of asteroids and the inner solar system. Reportedly, the White House also wants to invest money in commercial companies for spacecraft that can ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, which is expected to remain in Orbit until at least 2020.

Many of these ideas were raised in final report of the Augustine Panel, a committee commissioned to review NASA’s Constellation program. The panel’s report suggested that the White House should abandon the development of Ares I, NASA’s next rocket to carry crew, and should rely instead on the commercial sector. It also outlined plans that would skip the moon, and send robotic missions to Mars or Lagrange points.

The Augustine Panel said that an additional $3 billion a year was required for a “worthy” human spaceflight program. There is speculation that NASA will get less than $1 billion. However, the Obama administration still has to get its budget through Congress, and it could face opposition there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that NASA is preparing a technical evaluation of its human spaceflight program, which would “survey all the available rockets and spacecraft, consider different strategies for reaching future destinations and recommend a framework on how to proceed.” But the study will not be conducted until NASA’s budget has been determined.

According to the NYT, the administration might also turn to other nations to aid in space exploration, perhaps giving the European Space Agency the job of building a lunar lander. Michael Griffin, former NASA administrator, told the NYT that would be a mistake. “I can’t imagine the situation where the United States doesn’t want to have end-to-end capability to reach the lunar surface,” he said.

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