27 February 2009

A Glimpse at NASA's future…

Posted by Ryan Anderson

…Or at least at the future budget. The fiscal year 2010 budget summary was released by the White House yesterday, and there was a little bit of info about NASA. First and foremost, NASA is getting some more money! A total of $2.4 billion, counting the stimulus also.

That in and of itself is refreshing. But also very interesting is how NASA’s budget is divvied up, and what that means for the future of space exploration. It looks pretty clear that the plan to retire the space shuttle is going forward, as is the plan to return to the moon by 2020. There is no language that specifically says that Project Constellation will be how we return to the moon, but there’s no explicit call to halt the project either.

I’m glad to see that the plan to retire the shuttle is still going forward. The shuttle and the space station are two huge money pits that depend on each other to be useful; not a good system. Once the station is finished, the shuttle can be retired and private or Russian launch vehicles can be used to get people and supplies to and from the ISS. All the money freed up by no longer having to construct a space station and maintain the aging and unsafe shuttles will kick-start the return to the moon in whatever form it finally takes. A lot of space advocates are upset about the apparent plan to stick with project Constellation, but frankly I’d rather see NASA stay the course with something it has already started and that, at least to a casual observer of human spaceflight, appears to be progressing just fine. I freely admit I haven’t been following the minutiae of Constellation, but most of the negative news that I’ve been hearing sounds to me like typical engineering issues.

Maybe NASA will decide to do something other than Constellation. I don’t really care, so long as we re-establish our human spaceflight capabilities with a system that is better than the shuttle in terms of safety, cost, and capability. Whether all three of those things can be improved at once remains to be seen…

Space Politics has a nice post linking to a lot of responses to this new hint at NASA’s future. Universe today also has a very nice post on the topic.