A Rare Agreement Between Obama and Bush: Yes on the Moon, No on the Shuttle

By Eliza Strickland | February 27, 2009 2:39 pm

space shuttle sunsetThe 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.

Related Content:
80beats: Obama Team Raises New Questions About NASA’s Plans to Replace the Shuttle
80beats: NASA Considers Keeping Space Shuttles in Flight Past 2010
80beats: New Manned Craft Definitely Won’t Launch Until 2014, NASA Says

Image: NASA/Troy Cryder

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/ Uncle Al

    Nazis with slide rules went to the moon and back repeatedly, starting with nothing, in eight years (25 May 1961 Kennedy speech; Apollo 11 landed 20 July 1969). NASA, possessing an effective high reliability solution, 40 years of experience, and 10,240 Itanium-2 processor supercomputer Columbia (plus desktop and notebook hardware galore)… is stymied.

    Three Space Scuttle liquid engines sum to 1.125 million lbs of thrust. Saturn’s five F-1A engines summed to 9 million lbs of liftoff thrust ( but had no recycle value). Space Scuttle solid fuel boosters do 2.6 million lbs of thrust each. Being 12 feet in diameter, eight of them fit around a 33-foot diameter Saturn V with elbow room. The Space Scuttle is safety downrated below 25 tons cargo. The jury rig would boost ~700 tons (28 Space Scuttle launches without 28×120 tons of parasitic Space Scuttle).

    The NR-1 nuclear submarine weighs 400 tonnes fully loaded plus crew of 12. Trade heavy propulsion plant and underwater whatnots for water and MREs. Oxygen from electrolysis of water. All compartments have pressure bulkheads and hatches. Pressure-sealed toilets, too. Add external airlocks with dust scrubbers. One launch for Moon base and consummables plus lunar insertion engines, one launch for landing package and surface operations; one launch for personnel, emergency return vehicle, odds and ends.

    Build the submarine in aluminum to conservatively lose 130 tons or carbon composite to lose 160 tons. Bury beneath 10 meters of lunar regolith for temperature and radiation buffering.

  • Randy T

    Better be strapped in when 8 of those solid boosters fire. Everyone onboard ends up with serious hemorrhoids if they are butt down.

  • Dennis

    We are all pissed at NASA. We need something besides rockets. Something safer.
    Or at least something that can launch rockets at a much lower percentage of maximum thrust.
    But NASA has not seriously pushed anything forward. We are still completely reliant on a controlled explosion under someone’s ass to get us off this planet.
    The Japanese at least are focused on the space elevator.
    My bet is on magnetic launch with rockets. With electrical power we have on the ground we can at least give a rocket a head start….and dramatically increase the load…or decrease the rockets thrust for safety…
    Or both.

  • Dan42day

    Don’t worry Dennis,

    we might be only a couple of years from discovering a way to increase the energy density of plasma, or ion drives. It’ll probably involve nanotubes, they seem to come up with a new use for them every day. They also seem to have an abundance of interesting electrical properties. Maybe they can use them to make tiny rail-guns that could accelerate one ion at a time to relativistic speeds. Put several trillion of them on a 1 square inch chip and maybe they can get a couple pounds of thrust. The F-1 engines on the Saturn 5 put out about 90 pounds of thrust per square inch of exhaust area, so we will need to cover a lot of area with ion thruster chips (slightly more if they’re barbecue flavored).

    Amusingly, the next generation of spacecraft may very much resemble “flying saucers” since their shape will be a compromise between thrust surface area and being aerodynamic enough to travel straight up and out of the atmosphere at a decent speed….say 300 – 400 mph. Remember how the bottom of those things always glowed?

    At least we won’t need heat shields, we’ll just use our ample supply of power and propellant to slow down from orbital speed and float back in at a couple hundred MPH instead of 14,000. Much better than hoping to God that you haven’t developed a pinhole in your shield! For now, we’ll probably have to use one or two submarine fission reactors for power, so this thing is going to be big. But hey, the fusion guys say they might have something ready in about 50 years!

    Actually, I really do think something like this will happen.

  • http://E Frank Corley

    I was under the assumption that the Ares and the moon consideration was CANCELLED! Are we now going to go with two rockets and return to the moon and ISS using are own space vehicles? When the change of heart of the Obama’s administration?

  • http://www.recette-barbecue.fr Recettes Barbecue

    […]Under the proposed budget, the agency would receive $18.7 billion in 2010. Combined with $1 billion in funding provided in an[…]

  • http://www.paypal.com/ Rolland Enloe

    I enjoy reading your blog posts but perhaps this time you may have been too tired when writing because your writing it feels rushed.


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