Thursday, May 27, 2010
Obama's proposals for NASA fail to gain much altitude on Capitol Hill
Plans hatched in the Bush era for a new NASA moon landing may not have seemed terribly logical, since U.S. astronauts already visited there in the 1960s and 1970s. But changing those plans to advance human space travel in the future is turning out to be a lot harder than it should be. What else would explain the chilly reception the Obama-appointed head of the United States space agency -- Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr. -- faced, even from Democrats, when he went before Congress on Wednesday to explain the new administration's proposed 2011 budget? Obama has proposed boosting NASA's budget by $6 billion over five years and directing the extra funds toward aeronautic and climate research, and science missions using robotic ships, not astronauts, according to the New York Times. But U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee told Bolden that Obama's proposed spending was nowhere near enough to achieve the president's loftier goals, and it makes no sense to cancel the existing program to return to the moon without the money to do anything else. Obama proposed in a speech last month that NASA gear up to put astronauts on an asteroid by 2025 and on Mars by 2035, and to cancel the existing Constellation program and open travel to the moon and the international space station to private companies instead. “So far we have not seen any hard analysis from the administration that would give us confidence that it can be done for the amount budgeted,” Gordon said. Gordon said the administration's projections were far less than a NASA panel had estimated human travel to an asteroid and Mars would cost. “It does no good to cancel a program that the administration characterizes as ‘unexecutable’ if that program is simply replaced with a new plan that can’t be executed either,” he said. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, also a Democrat, said she was "very dubious" that NASA would continue to work on the Constellation program while Obama's proposals were pending, the Times said. But Obama also proposed that the Constellation program's proposed Orion crew capsule that was going to return astronauts to the moon be redeveloped into a "lifeboat" for space station astronauts. Bolden said at the hearing that NASA estimates the capsule will take five years and $4.5 billion to develop, the Times said.