The new budget proposed by President Barack Obama boosts funding for NASA and shows the new president’s commitment to exploration of the moon and our solar system’s planets. Under the proposed budget, the agency would receive $18.7 billion in 2010. Combined with $1 billion in funding provided in an economic stimulus package signed into law last week, NASA would get $2.4 billion more than it did in 2008 [New Scientist].
Like his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama wants to return people to the moon and send robots further into space [Reuters]. But while the proposed funding boost pleases many in the space community, the budget disappoints “shuttle-huggers” who hoped that Obama would keep the space shuttle flying past the 2010 retirement date set by the Bush administration. Instead, the proposal instructs NASA to stick to that deadline, although it does offer one concession.
Bush wanted the shuttle to retire after it finished hauling building materials to the International Space Station. Obama’s budget allows for one additional shuttle flight before the end of 2010 if it can be flown “safely and affordably.” That’s presumably a reference to a long-planned shuttle mission to position a multimillion-dollar physics experiment on board the space station. Bush had ruled that mission out, but it drew support from Obama during the presidential campaign [USA Today].
It’s not yet clear how the additional money will be used to further exploration efforts, or whether it will speed the progress of next-generation rockets and crew capsules. Under current plans, NASA won’t be able to send astronauts into space between the shuttle’s retirement in 2010 and 2015, when the the Ares I rocket and the Orion capsule are completed.
Obama’s transition team has questioned whether the Ares is the best replacement, but the budget doesn’t mention a specific launch system for the moonshot. The Ares program has seen some tough engineering challenges, including a potentially destructive vibration problem that could destroy the rocket in flight, and questions about whether developing two rockets–one for the astronauts and one for the hardware–makes practical sense [Fast Company]. Budget officials say more details will be presented in April.
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Image: NASA/Troy Cryder