Where is NASA Going? Rumors Fly

The rumors are flying fast and furious as to details of NASA’s budget and future path that will be officially announced on February 1, 2010. The Orlando Sentinel says the Constellation program is dead: Obama and Congress are going to pull the plug on the Ares rocket and nix returning to the Moon. The Houston Chronicle says there is no way NASA will get a budget boost, especially not the $3 billion suggested by the Augustine Commission. New Scientists reports that Mars’ moon Phobos will be the next destination of human explorers, as part of the undefined “flexible path” — again suggested by the Augustine panel. Most interesting among the mix is a blog post by NASA’s Wayne Hale, who suggests NASA should get out of the human spaceflight business – and allow commercial space companies to handle hauling astronauts to space.

Some speculate this could be the end of America’s space agency as we know it — we might as well take the “S” out of NASA.

The Augustine Commission report last year said β€œThe human spaceflight program that the United States is currently pursuing is on an unsustainable trajectory.”

But is ending Constellation, a program we’ve already spent billions on going to save money or our space program in the long run?

Or does NASA need a whole new direction and a whole new beginning.

Or is it an ending?

Enough speculation. The official word will come on Monday.

Discuss below, or chime in at this thread on NASAWatch, or this one at Space Politics.

36 Replies to “Where is NASA Going? Rumors Fly”

  1. This makes me really sad. With the military gobbling up 21% of the Federal budget, and Social Security getting another 21%, it makes no sense that the measly .54% NASA budget gets slashed. Way to go, USA.

  2. I’m looking forward to this announcement, sometimes we just have to break the mold

  3. It would be very foolish to stop the program since all other countries are going there so it is a moon race.

  4. It seems clear again, that the only fundamental and basic objective of this administration is the total destruction of the American system. Truly sickening.

  5. Warning: Strong opinions ahead.

    kill kill kill Ares. It was a dumb idea to begin with.

    A rocket design chosen based on the amount of workforce it preserves and Horowitz personal affiliation to the manufacturer of solid boosters.

    Atlas V, Delta IV, and upcoming Falcon 9 – why do we need another?

    Also, kill kill kill the “beached ISS” moon base idea. A base is just a recipe for an outpost that goes nowhere and spends most of its resources just maintaining itself.

    Instead – explore explore explore! NEOs, Phobos, then Mars. There’s so much more to learn from these three than there is from a lunar base. Mars is a real planet, with water, geology, and probably past life – at least!

    I’m 100% behind this. The moon is a rocky island near shore. Mars is the coast of the next continent. Been to the moon, time to cross the ocean.

    Read here on why this is a constructive, not destructive move:

  6. I don’t blame Obama for this. Way back when George the Elder was making grandiose speeches about going to Mars I knew it wasn’t going to happen, and it didn’t. George Junior made a similar speech and I didn’t believe that one either. You can’t get to the planets on hot air. It takes money and lots of it and they were never going to fund these pie-in-the-sky projects they just wouldn’t be straight with you and tell you that. Obama’s commission was at least honest about it. We aren’t going to the moon and we aren’t going to Mars. I leave it as an exercise for the scientists to explain how probes detailing the content of the soil of a place we are never going is relevant to the lives of the people whose taxes are funding those probes. Even if the resources were there unless I missed it the radiation problem for a journey of that duration has not been solved.

  7. I don’t know how killing Ares is not going to translate into a motion for killing the space program as we know it.

    Its essentially asking for a do-over so that the management that brought us here can have a second chance to make the same decisions. The administration has no assurance the new program will work any better than the old one.
    The resolution is simply not to ask for a new program and pursue some alternative (such as going commercial or outsourcing our launches to other nations after the shuttle extension option runs out).

    Pair this with the fact the President is readying the stage to display his idea of extreme fiscal responsibility right about the time NASA future budget is to be decided.

    This is very bad timing.

    Those praying for mishaps to befall constellation are likely to get more of a disaster than they bargained for.

  8. Thameron Says:
    January 27th, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    “We aren’t going to the moon and we aren’t going to Mars.”

    The US may not be, but even discounting all other arguments, the likes of China, India and even a resurgent Russia have all plainly acknowledged that they want to go to these places. The prestige, power and symbolic values that comes with a technological feat like that is simply too powerful a draw. The US will do it’s usual trick and crap their pants when they realise that the competition has gotten ahead and hence has a military advantage derived from the technology in question, and then sink and inordinate amount of funds into catching up. That is, if their national debt hasn’t completely blown through the stratosphere by then.

    “I leave it as an exercise for the scientists to explain how probes detailing the content of the soil of a place we are never going is relevant to the lives of the people whose taxes are funding those probes.”

    It’s only relevant if you have an interest in more than simply whiling away your time, merely existing through your lifetime. If you follow your implied argument to it’s logical conclusion, you end up with a world like Orwell’s 1984. You work, you go about the business that directly concerns you, you don’t ask questions. Sorry sunshine, but a great many people on the face of this Earth see enormous value in scientific studies of places we will never actually go, including everyone on this site bar you, it seems. And sorry, but individuals only get a collective vote on where their tax dollars go, and just as well.Otherwise I may see something you feel passionate about as irrelevant to my life, and decide I don’t want my tax dollars funding it. Where does that leave the world? I’ll leave it as an exercise for your consideration.

    “Even if the resources were there unless I missed it the radiation problem for a journey of that duration has not been solved.”

    No, it hasn’t. But if you’ll remember, not much more than a few decades ago, getting a human being to the moon hadn’t been solved. Merely a decade or so before that, the problem of lofting something into space hadn’t been solved. About a hundred years ago, the problem of flying a heavier-than-air flying machine hadn’t been solved either. Nothing in principle says that the radiation problem cannot be solved – indeed, there has been progress in this regard as detailed on UT not so long ago. And most scientists I think would agree that it is a very do-able engineering problem.

    We’re humans – we solve things and we explore. Beyond having sex and eating, that’s about our highest calling so far as I can tell. The rest is simply a means to that end, or mere distraction. Not that some distractions aren’t rather pleasant of course…

  9. I spent some more time reading Hale’s blog… I don’t see him saying NASA should get out of the human spaceflight business. He’s wrestling with reconciling the ultra-bureaucratic, invasive safety monitoring that NASA has done with it’s past rocket/spacecraft developers (North American, Rockwell, Boeing, etc.) with the “new space” movement of nimble, entrepreneurial companies like SpaceX, where, in the case of Falcon 9, some of the design and testing will have already been carried out before NASA contracts with them for manned launches. NASA will still send send astronaut crews to the ISS- especially if it’s extended until 2020- it may just interact with contractors in a new way, in ways much different than the Apollo days.

    That said, there is talk of a “Saturn V-type” heavy launcher remaining in NASA’s development plans. It’s really cutting Ares I for a rocket more like Ares V… though they won’t call it that, I’m sure.

    Sure, we’ve been to the moon, but going back is not without merit. Avoiding it in favor of asteroids and Mars is equal parts bold and foolish. Better to learn close to home, than foolishly jump out into the deep.

  10. With all of absurd stimulus money flying around they can’t find a few billion dollars out of trillions to invest in a program with a long track record of proven benefits to society. Shame on these mindless morons. As the old saying goes, “give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” Instead of investing peanuts into a program that advances technology for the benefit of all, they would rather throw it all down a black hole of handouts of consumables and entitlements for special people. There is no better sign of the continued decline of the U.S. as a world power. The mistakes they make today will cost them painfully in the near future and beyond.

  11. Absolutely; open near space to commercialization.

    Phobos and near earth asteroids is the way to go.
    I have always said that there is no point to us going (back) down gravity wells ourselves once we have left ours.

    However we do need to be near enough to a planet to study it. Doing it by remote from earth is never going to cut it.

    Want to study the Moon?, move the space station into near Moon Orbit. πŸ™‚ Stocked up with drones that can be deployed for exploration.

    Ditto for Phobos.

    More so, researching alternative ways to escape earth gravity (with) mass is something to be solved.

    I dont see why Hydrogen filled balloons cant lift high into the atmosphere then be lofted to near earth orbit by using some of their Hydrogen and Oxygen as propulsion to gain a higher altitude.

    From a certain altitude even plasma propulsion is effective, (GOCE sattelite). It would be a slow lift and require some interesting fabrication but its not entirely unfeasable. (in my mind)

    Even as a high altitude research platform.

    More so re Nasa. We owe this organization a lot, What hinders space exploration is not necessarily governments or funding, but public opinion. Selling the right vision, is an approbation of justified national expense. Or in other words Nasa has lacked the (public attention grabbing vision) without the funding as mandated by public opinion. We are short lived, our commitment to such ideas as a culture is always tempered by inspirational results.

    The Phobos Monolith makes for some good headlines, lets visit it. πŸ™‚ Ceres and Vesta are bound to fascinate us all soon. These are good directions. Ceres is the ‘Midway’ of our solar system, we should aim to set up shop there as well.


  12. A lot of the “socialized” programs that Presidents Eisenhour, Kennedy and Johnson fostered in the 1950’s and 1960’s wouldn’t have a chance in hell of passing Congress today. There’s no way a huge NASA space budget, Medicare or Medicade would have any chance of passing Congress in 2010. The 1960’s NASA manned spaceflight program was considered an extension of our Defense Department “cold war” against the Soviets. Project Apollo was considered part of the cold war attack against Russia. Sorry folks…….. we just don’t have that same feelings about attacking or upstaging our cold war “enemies” like we did 50 years ago. And that’s why space exploration is taking a back seat today. It has absolutely nothing to do with exploration. It was all about beating the Soviets. Most Americans today are happy to jump into their Japanese or German cars and Chinese or Indian made clothes and be fat, content and happy while Rome burns. The war is over and the rest of the World already won, not America.

  13. In light of the recent Supreme Court decision in favor of ‘corporate personhood’, might we see an multimedia ad blitz by Boeing and-or other major contractors lobbying Congress to save Constellation/Ares? Lawrence Crowell has mentioned this issue elsewhere as it relates to the Global Warming brouhaha, but the possible cancellation of Constellation may make this the first horse out of the gate, so to speak.

  14. “Sorry sunshine, but a great many people on the face of this Earth see enormous value in scientific studies of places we will never actually go, including everyone on this site bar you, it seems.”

    Yes, a great many do, but unfortunately a majority don’t, at least in this country. Consider that if all the money spent on the Oscars, American Idol, the Superbowl and various unnecessary military conflicts were spent on space travel we’d have colonies all over the solar system. The evidence strongly suggests that most people just don’t care what’s beyond the atmosphere and with most people living in an urban environment most of them never see the stars there anyway. For them it is not relevant. The evidence I am seeing suggests that most Americans want to be well entertained badasses with a lot of glitzy crap.

    I am seeing a lot of smoke about other countries picking up the slack and doing space exploration, but so far not a lot of fire. They are trying to re-invent the wheel with a dull chisel. They might make it if they have they the determination, but it is an iffy proposition at best.

    Just to be clear – I am lamenting this situation not exulting in it. I thought I would live long enough to see our species reach Mars. I wont.

  15. If what the Sentinel published is true, then the President didn’t say we would totally cut our manned space program. He stated we would ‘out source’ it to other countries, like the Russians. Apparently, it is better to employ people in other countries.

    This is par for the course for a Democratic president. We are behind in a replacement for the Shuttle, because Bill Clinton killed any attempts to increase spending for the planning. This didn’t come until Bush entered office. Although I’m not exactly thrilled with what is being planned.

    Yes we’ve been to the Moon, and some parts of the ISS are getting a bit stale. However, don’t forget how many products you use everyday which have come from research and development for the space program.

    Although we’ve been to the Moon, we haven’t mastered space flight. We aren’t truly prepared to go to Mars and beyond until we can successfully construct a facility on our Moon and prove people can live there. To do this we will need technology we currently do not have… and technology we as a public would undoubtedly benefit from.

    Right now, America needs jobs. Killing a program which obviously employs many individuals, with many different skills is rediculous. Especially when something creates products and technology which can be used outside the space program, causing the birth of more companies, and thus more employment.

    It isn’t NASA’s budget which needs to decline. It is our congressmen adding pork and earmarks to bills.
    Everyone got upset when there was an addition to the proposed health care bill when the state of Nebraska would receive a tax break for 20 years. This is nothing but a normal, good-ole earmark. The only difference is this one went public.
    In the end, all this pork is just a legal means of bribing. Its easy to get some senator to vote for your bill, if you add a few million dollars to the bill which can be spent in their district.

    NASA and the population is going to suffer, because instead of the powers at hand changing the way they handle money, they would rather change the way everyone else handles it so they can spend more.

  16. @CrazyEddie – First let me say you have a badass user name. Second I think people under estimate the moon, hell I think people under estimate what we’re going to find within our own solar system but the moon has it’s own advantages. There’s almost no communication delays and if something goes wrong we have the possibility to send help or to send them home (no waiting two years for the orbits to line up). But whatever we do we cannot allow any further endeavors (ironic word choice) to become what the shuttle was. If we build a moon base it must be to actively achieve a certain goal with a date in mind, not “lower the cost of space access by launching every two months” to put meaningless satellites into orbit and than realize the budget does allow for anything else.

  17. Why do people act like radiation is an impossible problem, that there’s no way to protect against it?

  18. Thameron…

    Your last two sentences really struck hard. I hope everyone else can think about that for a bit.

  19. Craigboy –

    My work involves radiation so I know a little bit about it. Part of the problem people have with understanding it is that ‘radiation’ is a catch all term sort of like ‘dogs’ including Great Danes and Dachshunds. Radiation is either charged particles (protons and electrons) which can be deflected by a strong enough magnetic field (like the one around our planet). Creating that field around a space ship would require energy and that means carrying a strong enough generator. and electromagnetic radiation (gamma rays and x-rays) which cannot be deflected by a magnetic field and which would require a hefty amount of mass to shield you from it. Mass means using lots of energy to get it into orbit and that means high cost.

    Another solution to this problem would simply be to genetically engineer people to be resistant to radiation like the waterbears. That solution is probably about as far away as the others.

    These problems are soluble with sufficient will and resources, but the evidence suggests (to me at least) that the will is not presently there to do so.

    SpaceNinja –

    I’ve have always been in the human space travel camp rather than robotic exploration. Robots going places is a curiosity satisfier for exogeologists. Humans going places is adventure. After all, would you be satisfied to send a robot to take your vacation in Tahiti for you?

  20. Thameron –

    I did the moon/mars trade-off sheet so many times in my head… I think Mars wins out.

    The moon is easier to get to, Mars is easier to stay on, and is a richer planet – that’s the bottom line.

    After s medium stay duration, you reach the break-even point where the cost of sustenance dominates the cost of transportation. As with all breakeven points, once you cross them, you never look back…

    Either way, Area I was a joke to begin with. We need a space program that is based on what made the US great – capitalism, innovation, competition… Ironic that Obama is pushing for exactly that, and the conservatives are pushing for a government program….

  21. First, Social Security is at least in theory financed separate from the rest the government. (At least until Johnson started using its “trust fund” to hide his budget deficit.) I am retired after working 30 years in Social Security.
    Second, this is a real great way to create jobs. Eliminate 100’s of employees will really increase the number of employed.

  22. It’s looking pretty bad for NASA and all of America. This is what happens when gullible people elect a person with no experience, who does nothing but read from telepromtors. People wer angry at Bush, and they certainly had reasons to be angry, but at least he wanted something from the space program.

    If these rumors are true, then I’m simply giving up on our government. It is out of touch and does not represent it’s people.

    I am hoping that the cancellation of the Ares/Constellation project is a good sign for Direct 2.0 or another program, but the outlook is dim.

    Maybe we can convince Obama that NASA is really a mega-huge Bank and needs a bail out!

  23. Global warming? Why the F would that be NASA’s new focus, one long term, due date goal? I am going to be so angry if this is true. That’s not even the purpose of the agency and instead of doing what the Commission he set up to do, he chooses to consolidate space exploration in the name of global warming research, when he could have taken funds from anywhere else. He choose to do it from an under-funded program. Fuck him and the white horse he road in on.

  24. The problem is that most politicians today know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.

  25. Writing from outside the US and as one who has traveled quite a bit and reads the international press,
    I think I can say that NASA is the most admired and respected government agency on the planet bar none.

    Indeed what other government agency is loved or admired anywhere??

    Surely an administration that can mint trillions to pay off toxic assets and let bankers skim billions off the top for bonuses isn’t so lacking in the audacity of exploration that it would nickel and dime it’s stairway to the stars into extinction.

    I hesitate to second guess the viability of this or that program – there’s always some fat to cut.

    But please Obama say it ain’t true.

  26. Most of these somewhat superfluous America’s programs logically have to be cut. Considering the massive debts the country has raised it no wonder. Hell. You currently can’t even make all the repayments on the borrowings!
    Lets see. Worst in the US is the real basic requirements of health and child care of some of the population are not being properly meet. If you incur a medical debt without adequate insurance you have a high probability of bankruptcy. Even worst is you decrease in life expectancy and increases in infant mortality. Unless you are working (with rising +10% unemployment too) and have adequate insurance, basic health care remains a luxury and not a real necessity. (Even those who are supported by government programs are supported only by “emergency services.” After seeing what happened to New Orleans under G.W. Bush shows how precarious that can be!)

    Really. So what is more important? Caring for the sick or going back to the moon? Most here seem happy to totally sacrifice the social responsibility of its government in favour of ‘feeling good’ in some esoteric venture of mostly propaganda dripping with almost xenophobic-like nationalistic pride.

    Constellation and Ares is a good idea – but perhaps again until the 2020s or 2030s. Get you economic house and social responsibilities in order before heading for more lofty places.

  27. Thameron – I misread the tone of your post completely – my mistake and I apologize unreservedly for my misdirected attack.

    Indeed, as one commenter mentioned, your last sentences are a powerful argument against this horror of mediocrity and triviality that has overtaken the governments of the world in the past few decades.


  28. HR 3288 is the ANNUAL appropriations for a few high level departments.

    Unfortunately this happens to end on September 30th, 2010. Around July/Aug of this year, a new one will be written/ammended and approved.

    President Obama can write in his next budget to allow this much money, along with cut this and that. To get any votes he needs, he just adds a few things into those representatives’ districts and BINGO… approved!

    As long as the Democrats own both houses, Obama has a good chance of getting whatever he wants.

  29. Astrofiend

    Apology accepted. This form of communication leaves out a lot of the clues that we are used to and so misunderstandings are common.

    At issue there are two stories here. One is the story of a human race which did not spread beyond their planet to other planets and then to the stars.

    The other is a story of adventure, exploration and discovery where the human race did expand beyond their home into the greater universe.

    I like that second story better and while I understand that I will never have the option to board a starship I did hope that I’d see a human foot come down on Mars.

    It isn’t that it is impossible that gets me. It’s that it is possible, but people choose not to do it because they value war, sports and entertainment more that gets me.

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