The End of American Human Space Exploration

President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget request has effectively shut down NASA’s five-year effort to return astronauts to the moon, leaving the U.S. space agency with lofty goals – but no firm deadlines – to once again send humans beyond Earth orbit.
The budget request, released today, would scrap NASA’s Constellation program to build the Orion spacecraft and Ares rockets for new < – a $9 billion investment to date. The request calls for $19 billion in funding for NASA in 2011, a slight increase from the $18.3 billion it spent in 2010. 
The request does, however, pledge extra funding to extend the life of the International Space Station through at least 2020 and offers $6 billion over five years to supportcommercially built spaceships to launch NASA astronauts into space. The space agency’s three remaining space shuttles are due to retire later this year.

The plan should make Elon Musk ans SpaceX happy. What do our readers think?

UPDATE: This is now a FORUM topic. Visit our FORUM and join the conversation.


6 Responses to “The End of American Human Space Exploration”

  1. 1 Larry February 3, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    I'm not that surprised to be honest, in fact I'm amazed that Nasa has been allowed to continue its work for so long in today's cold economic climate. Its a shame but it looks like our manifest destiny isnt destined to happen!100 years from now will our only piece of space exploration history remain the 1969 moon landing? I hope not!

  2. 2 Anonymous February 3, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Is this good news or bad? It's great that more federal funding will be available for hard science and technology research and developemnt, rather than just to bail out poor business decisions within the private sector. After all, this investment will provide economic payback for decades, just as the Apollo program bumped the US to the forefront of consumer technology during the 1970's. Sadly, there is now no determined plan to get to the Moon in 5 or even 15 years It’s surprising that the NASA administrators are just now saying that the new Moon program was flawed. It seemed that, publicly at least, all systems were GO just last week. I still think that advancing proven Shuttle and Apollo tech was a good plan that should have ensured success at a decent price and time line. So unless there is a big change in focus and funding the current private industry spacecraft will continue to be low budget ballistic or at most low orbit carnival rides for wealthy astronaut wannabes. Hopefully private industry will come through with actual working hardware and not just become a funding sink. Oh well, at least the ISS will be funded for a few additional years. It’s also fortunate that Soyuz will continue to be available to keep the ISS operational. Could you have imagined this situation 25 years ago? Too bad none of the feds mentioned Zubrin's Mars Direct.

  3. 3 Anonymous February 3, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    @ Anonymous:"So unless there is a big change in focus and funding the current private industry spacecraft will continue to be low budget ballistic or at most low orbit carnival rides for wealthy astronaut wannabes."Both stages of Falcon 9 have been tested for full duration firings and performed as designed. The first booster is being integrated at Cape Canaveral right now and may launch as early as March. Dragon's RCS thrusters have been tested in vacuum. Laser-guided rendezvous hardware has already been installed on the ISS. The first demo rendezvous of cargo Dragon with the ISS will happen this year. So the only show-stopper keeping Dragon from carrying 7 astronauts to and from ISS routinely is the development of a launch escape system.Boeing, LockMart and Bigelow have the resources to build a lightweight version of Orion, capable of being launched on Atlas 5 (which already is a proven, reliable launch vehicle. Boeing was one of the recipients of the CCDev award yesterday.SpaceDev (another CCDev awardee)may be a longer-term proposition. Its DreamChaser proposal is based on a Soviet subscale vehicle which successfully reentered the atmosphere and was recovered multiple times in the late 70s-early 80s. To my knowledge, though, the DreamChaser mockup is made out of plywood, and has only been used for human factors studies in its interior. It has no avionics, heat shielding, etc. If I recall correctly, SpaceDev built the hybrid motors for SpaceShipOne; SpaceDev also has a proven record of building successful, unmanned spacecraft. So, I suspect that attitude control and avionics for DreamChaser should be off-the-shelf items. The challenge for SpaceDev will be the construction of its first robust, reusable, manned structure, capable of keeping human occupants healthy with a reliable life support system. Does Sierra Nevada (of which SpaceDev is a subsidiary) have pockets deep enough to accomplish this? They only got $20 million from NASA, after all. If so, getting it into space should be no problem (it will also use the Atlas 5 booster).But, SpaceX's Falcon 9/Dragon will definitely support the ISS, and will easily do so within a few years. I would call that an accomplishment significantly more than "low orbit carnival rides."

  4. 4 Anonymous February 3, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Too late I realized that the only way I could post the last comment was as "Anonymous." I have no problem giving my name, which I intended to do.-Stu YoungSan Antonio, TX

  5. 5 Anonymous February 3, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    I also agree with the first "Anonymous'" comment lamenting the non-adoption of Mars Direct by NASA. While I believe (as I indicated in my post above) that private industry should be able to take care of LEO, NASA no longer has a clear plan for beyond-LEO exploration. NASA received extra funding in the new budget for R&D, such as closed-loop life support systems, human research on the ISS for prolonged spaceflight, and advanced propulsion. But that research could be extended into the indefinite future. Who decides when we're "ready" to go beyond LEO, and when? Pioneers of the American West didn't wait for the 4X4 to be developed first; they went west in covered wagons. Zubrin showed that we have the technology NOW to explore beyond LEO. Let's put a centrifuge on the ISS, and research how humans do in 1/3 (Mars) gravity. The Michoud facility outside of New Orleans has found that it has enough left-over STS parts to put together a test DIRECT vehicle. Lets build some Jupiter HLVs (for 19 billion less than Constellation would have cost), and start planning to go to Mars in the early 2020s!-Stu Young

  6. 6 Anonymous February 4, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Excellent post, Stu. You have provided a very comprehensive update on the present and future potential of commercial space flight. I really do hope that these and other corporations will indeed be sufficiently funded to keep manned space flight a reality in both the short and the long term. I was so looking forward to seeing astronauts on the Moon again that I must apologize for my disappointment coming through as frustration. But alas, last year’s ISS joy ride by a Canadian clown still seems a tad incongruent with a Moon or Mars program. And I will fully admit to being an astronaut wannabe too, unfortunately however, I am not a wealthy one. But perhaps this is the new reality; where tourist dollars and armchair adventurers fund the service and the science. After all, it is the magazine subscriptions that fund the National Geographic research and it was the book sales that allowed the first polar expeditions to come about. And remember the 2001 A Space Odyssey Pan Am shuttle? Maybe I will eventually get to LEO on Lufthansa. I have been having the same problem with the Anonymous designation. I joined this group but for some reason it keeps dropping me. Perhaps the moderator boots me out and I am too oblivious to realize it.Tim

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