Obama Compromises, Brings Back Orion Capsule; Allows for Heavy Lift Sooner


In what could be considered a compromise in his proposed budget for NASA, President Obama is reviving the Orion crew capsule concept that he had canceled with the rest of the Constellation program earlier this year, according to an article by Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press. This should mean more jobs and less reliance on the Russians, officials said Tuesday. While Orion, still won’t go to the moon. It will go unmanned to the International Space Station to stand by as an emergency vehicle to return astronauts home, officials were quoted in the article.

Borenstein also reported that NASA will speed up development of a heavy lift rocket. It would have the power to blast crew and cargo far from Earth, although no destination has been chosen yet. The rocket supposedly would be ready to launch several years earlier than under the old moon plan.

The two moves are being announced before the “Space Summit” on Thursday, a visit to Kennedy Space Center by Obama. They are designed to counter criticism of the Obama administration’s space plans as being low on detail, physical hardware, and local jobs.

The President’s plan had been met with much criticism, including an open letter to Obama drafted by several former astronauts, flight directors and other former NASA officials.

A briefing at the White House Now said that the president is committed to choosing a single heavy-lift rocket design by 2015 and then starting its construction.

Reportedly, the new Obama program will mean 2,500 more Florida jobs than the old Bush program, a senior White House official told Borenstein. In addition, as we reported earlier, the commercial space industry on Tuesday released a study that said the president’s plan for private ships to fly astronauts to and from the space station would result in 11,800 jobs.

“We wanted to take the best of what was available from Constellation,” the NASA official told The Associated Press as part of a White House briefing.

Read the full Associated Press article here.

18 Replies to “Obama Compromises, Brings Back Orion Capsule; Allows for Heavy Lift Sooner”

  1. I’d rather have the heavy lift Ares now and the manned capsule later, presumably after we have found some good reason to get astronauts to the moon. That heavy lift could put some serious space telescopes and other astrophysical detectors into space.


  2. Excellent decision. I couldn’t fathom why Obama wanted to cancel the Orion program since restarting it in the future would become much more expensive once it was scrapped. Scaling down the overly ambitious Bush NASA agenda also makes some sense. Overall this is the kind of direction I think NASA should be going. More emphasis on robotic and science missions while maintaing the capacity for manned missions when they become necessary or more costeffective. Obama scared me for a while, it would have been better if this is where he started. But in the end I think he is pretty much on the mark.

  3. Oh, some good news!
    So one question, what will boost Orion into orbit? Aries I? Falcon 9?

  4. I hate to sound like I’m always on the opposite side of things… but this just strikes me as questionable.

    On one hand he’s responding to the criticisms of the commercial only plan, on the other he’s now going against the purity (or folly) of the initial idea just to sweeten the deal with the old guard.

    They had a moon program that was more expensive than they wanted to pay for and replaced it with a rocket to nowhere and a rehash of the capsule they no longer needed.

    I hope they know what the’re doing.

  5. Keeping Orion is a hedge in case Falcon9/Dragon fails. That’s not a bad idea – if F9/D proves successful, Orion can be canceled later.

    Ares 1 is dust – Orion lite will fly on an man rated Atlas, which will force Lockheed Martin and Boeing (aka ULA) to get off their fat asses and start competing for real.

    Heavy Launcher – now that’s useful, and there’s no market for it now, so it’s clearly in NASA territory. Rumor has it they’re talking Shuttle-C, which will also save jobs and infrastructure. ok by me.

    Another rumor is talking about an interplanetary vehicle. That’s the biggest piece of it all, I hope it shows up on the 15th.

  6. Greg, I’ll remind readers again that Bush’s plan was not overly ambitious … it was virtually unfunded.

    But I suppose doing anything unfunded could be considered over ambitious.

    Imagine where space exploration would be if Trillions hadn’t been wasted on the unjustified war in Iraq and on fixing Bush’s economic meltdown.

  7. “So one question, what will boost Orion into orbit?

    Probably a Soyuz…

  8. “I’d rather have the heavy lift Ares now and the manned capsule later, … That heavy lift could put some serious space telescopes and other astrophysical detectors into space.”

    LC, but what serious space telescopes might that be? I guess it would take longer to develop such a telescope than the time it would take to finish Ares.

    (And the JWST is already planned to be launched by an Ariane 5.)

  9. Rumors, rumors, rumors… Nobody knows what would happen to US space program and everybody is confused. I’m going to agree, that we don’t need Orion for LEO. Russians can do it and SpaceX most probably will. Orion is needed for beyond LEO. If we have no plans to go beyond LEO, than we don’t need it. Even if SpaceX or somebody else will have commercial access to manned LEO, they wouldn’t be able to go beyond it in foreseeable future. Rather China or India will.

  10. @Cydonia
    That is the kind of thing that concerns me.

    Personally I think the VSE plan was more important than the vehicles. You had a timeline, a destination, cost estimates and a general idea of what you should be doing at any given moment.
    This is how we knew it was in trouble when we started not meeting our goals.

    With this track we only, maybe, get the rockets. They stripped out all the meaningful parts out of constellation to buy the things we specifically didn’t want.

    A shuttle based HLV-crew carrying ship on the low end of the weigh lifting spectrum, a government owned and operated capsule to compete with commercial interests, and a flexible path that doesn’t seem to be in much of a rush to accomplish anything until long after the Obama years have passed.

    If there is anything to the rumors, we could be in for a repeat of everything that made the shuttle go from a frontier opening ship to a three decade (and potentially a six decade) debacle.

  11. “I know… lets invade Iraq, then we’ll have cheap oil for a long-long time! THEN we’ll have the extra cash to build a rocket to go back to the moon! and do a lot of other stuff too!”

    (Scenario from an economic planning session during the last administration)

    The Orion capsule is near completion, we might as well use that asset…

  12. The ISS isn’t the only thing our astronauts may have to get to; something we cannot count on the Russian’s to provide.

  13. As I see it, the confusion of the US space exploration is the manifestation of a leftist political agenda.

  14. America has so lost her way, why should our space program be any different? We’re hell bent on a race to the bottom, in a false believe this will somehow elevate everyone else. America’s spirit is all but lost, and our space program reflects this lack of vision, drive, heck, even life. This is the new Amerika.

  15. If it is a LEO return capsule it isn’t an Orion, which was an interplanetary return capsule. Likely it is a 3 seater “Orion light”, stripped of most everything LEO over-engineered. And then only as a complement to the more capable Dragon ascent/descent vehicle that would be needed.

    A heavy lifter was an integral part of “Flexible path”, so no news there.

  16. As far as I’m concerned a heavy-lift spacecraft is the most important thing. If we can’t get stuff up there – BIG things, then we’re just farting around in orbit.

  17. In a perfect world, we’d revive the X-40 AND continue developing the Orion Capsule……*

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