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Obama to Announce Changes for NASA on Monday: Scrap Constellation, Help ISS?

This Monday, February 1st, President Obama will announce his budget requests for 2010.  While of course nothing has been confirmed, there has been enough communication with unnamed “White House insiders, agency officials, industry executives and congressional sources,” that both Scientific American and The Orlando Sentinel have articles up regarding significant rumored changes to NASA.

The information as we know it boils down to a few things:

  • Scrapping the Constellation program: This means NASA won’t be working on a replacement for the space shuttle, which will be retired in a year or two.
  • Giving NASA the funds needed motivate private aerospace companies to create the rockets or capsules that would provide transportation to the…
  • International Space Station, which will have its lease on life extended to 2020.
  • An increase in NASA’s overall budget (although the Sentinel reports that it will ultimately be less than requested).

According to sources, the cancellation of Constellation is part of a deliberate attempt to choose a different path to space exploration, a long (decade or more) term strategy for developing a heavy-lift rocket to take humans and robots to explore objects beyond Earth’s orbit, such as near-Earth asteroids.

An independent committee advising the Obama White House on aerospace matters estimated that private private companies could be ready for manned launches by 2016, at worst still a year ahead of any further Constellation projects.

As usual, Congress may prove to be a problem.  Last year, senators and representatives voted to prohibit NASA from canceling Constellation and creating new programs in its place.  In spite of this, NASA has been quietly winding down some aspects of Constellation that are already billions over budget and years behind schedule.  The Sentinel reports one source as saying that “the budget will send a message that it’s time members of Congress recognize that NASA can’t design space programs to create jobs in their districts.”

Scientific American article.

Orlando Sentinel article.

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