Presidential Panel: Space Travel Plans Are Broken

By Eliza Strickland | September 9, 2009 10:24 am

shuttle launchAfter months of meetings, the panel of space experts appointed by President Obama to evaluate NASA‘s manned spaceflight program has returned with a dire assessment: lack of financing has put the program on an “unsustainable trajectory.” The executive summary (pdf) of the report, released yesterday, puts forth a number of ideas for how the space agency can live within its means, but the final decisions on whether to act on the ideas rests with President Obama and Congress.

Among other recommendations, the panel suggested that NASA shelve its goal of rapidly returning to the moon and instead focus on nurturing a robust commercial space industry that can handle short-term objectives of the nation’s space program, such as ferrying cargo and crew to the international space station [The Wall Street Journal]. By canceling a return to the moon (which had been scheduled for around 2020) and outsourcing routine resupply missions, the panel suggested that NASA would be able to work towards more ambitious, deep space missions like a trip to an asteroid or an expedition to Mars.

NASA has been developing two new rockets called Ares I and Ares V, as well as a new astronaut capsule called Orion, but the projects are over-budget and behind schedule. By allowing new commercial spaceflight companies like SpaceX to do some of the heavy lifting, the panel hopes NASA could save time and money. But critics say the study overestimates the extent of the problems confronting current programs while significantly underestimating the cost and difficulty of making alternate rockets safe to carry astronauts. Critics also argue that many of the commercial options favored by the study don’t have a track record and haven’t been fully tested [The Wall Street Journal].

The panel also suggests that NASA simply needs more funding. A space exploration program “that will be a source of pride for the nation” will require roughly an additional $3 billion a year, the committee found [Washington Post].  

Related Content:
80beats: 40 Years After Moon Landing, a Question Remains: What Next?
80beats: Work Starts on Spaceport America, the Tourist’s Gateway to Space
80beats: NASA Robots Aim for Moon; Human Mission May Be in Doubt
80beats: Obama Orders a Review of NASA’s Human Space Flight Program
80beats: SpaceX Scores a NASA Contract to Resupply the Space Station

Image: NASA

  • jimbo73

    bring on the private companies.

  • Casey

    Where’s my damn space elevator? I was promised a space elevator!

  • robot makes music

    In case anyone hasn’t noticed, America is flat broke. We need to stop talking about extra funding that these ‘critics’ are whinging on about and start coming in under budget, and make this space program sustainable.

    It’s not NASA that’s bankrupted our country, not by far, but pouring money into that when millions of Americans are jobless and encroaching on homeless just isn’t a sane decision.

  • Shaking head

    @ robot: Why are you on this site if you do not belive in new discovery? Or maybe that it is not that you don’t belive in it but rather can’t afford to be inquisitive? Most people who read this site hopefully do not share your opinion. Otherwise discovery magazine should not exist.. It’s obviously far too exepensive to be overly curious. The general people who read here have a natural curiosity or care for our surrounding environment and unfortunatly for you they will pay money to fund the research and findings which are displayed here on discover magazine.

  • Jockaira

    Robot is right…any politician willing to give NASA meaningful funding would probably lose his next election based on the mistaken notion that money given to NASA is “Lost In Space.” I’m sure that everyone here knows that NASA money pays dividends in technological development way past the simple paychecks it writes in the aerospace industry…but we gotta go along with morons who believe that somehow NASA’s money is spent somewhere in space, possibly at Han Solo’s cosmopolitan watering hole on Tatoöine.

    Just for the record, a study on this subject revealed that NASA funding is returned more than six times over in the profits from tech development. As such, it is the rare government program that shows a profit for everyone involved, except for politicians nowadays who would be hard put to defend NASA. It is likely that the money spent on NASA is supporting (by its profit development) several other government programs that otherwise might be cancelled or defunded.

    Robot is wrong about the sanity of this decision…getting totally behind NASA and manned exploration would give this country a shot in the arm, just like the one it got from the Apollo Program in the 60’s…That is the sanest decision!

  • The_Piper

    With the attitude of the majority, it’s actually a wonder that humans have civilization.
    Most people are more concerned with what they look like and if the people around them like them.
    You won’t invent much thinking about your face and your social standing.
    Ask the Neanderthals. Oh yeah…

  • Kiyomi Yamashita

    Enough of this already!
    NASA (and the other research agencies) are amongst the most underfunded government organizations. Welfare agencies, Medicare, Medicaid are amongst the most overfunded and wasteful groups. How come no one complains about “streamlining” them?
    The money spent on research is what makes possible our way of life from advanced medicine to the internet, not the money sent to people on welfare. Why do these idiots keep having kids they can’t look after on their own?
    So increase the R&D budgets (including NASA’s), trim back, slash, or cut funding for welfare and the country will eliminate the federal deficits, be paying off the national debt, and have the basis for a robust economy.

  • Shaking head

    Agreed kiyomi. But it’s like the piper says most people simply aren’t worried about space or somewhere that isn’t their immediate thoughts.

  • The Mikeness

    If there’s anything I’ve learned from modern history, American particularly, it’s that dumping money you don’t have into projects to create jobs is clearly the best way fix a broken economy, or rather the only one worth trying. You guys gave the auto industry and the banks how many billions and for what, abandoned mortgages and valueless derivatives?

    Why not throw a few dozen billion at NASA and see if they can finally give us hovercars or something?

  • Lara Hebron

    Thanks for a really interesting read, learn quite a few tips here, trying hard to improve my credit , i did a consumer proposal 7 years ago and just now i am starting to rebuild my credit slowly but surely and trying to avoid that credit card trap.


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