Obama's NASA Budget: So Long, Moon Missions; Hello, Private Spaceflight

By Andrew Moseman | February 1, 2010 11:13 am

Ares-I-X-test-flightThe Obama administration’s new budget may come in at a hulking $3.8 trillion, but one thing it doesn’t include is continued funding for the Constellation program. The program, which was intended to continue the work of the aging space shuttles, will get the ax if Congress approves the President’s plan. This also means that NASA would abandon its goal of returning to the moon by 2020.

Obama’s budget ends work on the shuttle follow-on vehicle, known as Orion, as well as a pair of rockets developed to fly astronauts to the space station, the moon and other destinations in the solar system. “We are proposing canceling the program, not delaying it,” Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters [Reuters]. The announcement had been some time in coming: The Augustine panel that Obama convened last year to review human spaceflight concluded that Constellation couldn’t succeed without $3 billion in additional annual  funding, and rumors broke out last week that the President’s budget would kill the program for good.

In place of the Constellation program’s Ares rockets and Orion crew capsule, Obama’s plan calls for funneling money to private companies that are jockeying for NASA contracts. The Washington Post reports that the plan would funnel $6 billion to support private space companies developing a vehicle to ferry astronauts back and forth from the International Space Station. Companies expected to seek the new space taxi business include United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin that launches rockets for theUnited States Air Force, and Space Exploration Technologies, a start-up company led by Elon Musk, who founded PayPal [ The New York Times]. The plan would also extend the life of the space station until 2020.

Commercial Spaceflight Federation president Bretton Alexander was understandably giddy at the prospect of private companies taking center stage. “At a time when job creation is the top priority for our nation, a commercial crew programme will create more jobs per dollar because it leverages millions in private investment and taps the potential of systems that serve both government and private customers,” he said [BBC News].

However, the White House’s plan to shift to private spaceflight has already ruffled plenty of feathers. Congressional representatives from states with many NASA jobs, like Florida and Texas, have promised to fight the move all the way. Michael Griffin, the previous NASA administrator who served under President George W. Bush, was even more bitter at seeing Obama cut his prized program: “It means that essentially the U.S. has decided that they’re not going to be a significant player in human space flight for the foreseeable future… One day it will be like commercial airline travel, just not yet. It’s like 1920. Lindbergh hasn’t flown the Atlantic, and they’re trying to sell 747s to Pan Am” [Washington Post].

Some space buffs are also mourning the loss of Constellation’s ambitious goal of reaching the moon by the end of this decade. However, budget director Orszag insisted to reporters that the new plan doesn’t close off the route to human exploration of the moon and the solar system’s planets–it just pushes these efforts back to an unspecified date. Orszag claimed that “advance robotics and other steps that will help to inspire Americans and not just return a man or a woman to the Moon but undertake the longer range research that could succeed in human spaceflight to Mars” [SPACE.com].

Lost in the furor over Constellation is the fact that Obama’s budget actually increases NASA funding slightly. And as DISCOVER blogger Phil Plait points out at Bad Astronomy, private companies were on track to reach orbit faster than the Constellation program even before this proposed sea change in the government’s approach to spaceflight. Even a fully-funded Constellation program would not have gone back to orbit until at least 2015, leaving a five-year gap after this year’s pending space shuttle retirement with no way for Americans to reach orbit other than hitching a ride with the Russians. NASA had seen lots of infighting over whether Constellation, and especially its Ares rockets, were the right approach. Now it might have to accept losing them for good.

Related Content:
Bad Astronomy: Give Space a Chance
Bad Astronomy: RUMOR: Obama to Axe Constellation And Ares
80beats: Liftoff! NASA’s New Rocket Takes to the Sky In a Successful Test Flight
80beats: New NASA Rocket May Not Be “Useful,” White House Panel Says
80beats: Presidential Panel: Space Travel Plans Are Broken
DISCOVER: Space Boost, on the potential of private spaceflight

Image: NASA

  • M Zelenz

    More change we can believe in, yeah!

  • Dave

    Hmmm. I know our government would like to cut back, sometimes I’d like to cut the funding to them completely, but for somereason NASA doesn’t seem the place to start. I’m sure there’s plenty of other things that our government wastes money on that are far less important than NASA. I wouldn’t mind NASA focusing though, on going to Mars instead of the Moon.

  • http://stevewilsonblog.com Stephen Wilson

    Already, President Obama’s call to privatize NASA research and development saves taxpayers millions.

  • Scott

    This is a sad day. The U.S. is abandoning it’s historical role as a leader in manned space exploration and we will be the poorer for it.

  • http://www.brocku.ca/lawfield/node/62 Class 60 – Lawfield School

    The space program spends too much money. It’s good that they are taking the money out of going to the moon, maybe they could go to Mars instead. Maybe instead of taking all the money out, they could give it to them over a longer period of time. They could cut the budget in half and see what they could do with that. Hopefully, this doesn’t mean people at NASA will be losing their jobs. They could use the money to take care of other issues like global warming or helping Haiti.

  • Becca

    It’s my understanding that the idea is to have private companies take over the space travel that we have already done and have done for years, shuttling to the space station etc. This frees up NASA to work on cutting edge space travel and exploration. Take them out of the bus buisness and put them back where they belong on the forfront of space exploration and research. I think it is a great idea.

  • dasnd12

    Obama didnt cut funding to NASA:

    “Lost in the furor over Constellation is the fact that Obama’s budget actually increases NASA funding slightly”

    He just cut funding for a program that was we ll over budget and behind. When you have something that is going wrong form the begining..its better to cut your losses and start fresh than to keep throwing money out the window.

  • Tony Glut

    #7: Right on! Now where were you when I was dating that bulemic with the drug habit?

  • Stephen Smith

    Space Cadets like me may mourn the loss of Orion, but Obama didn’t cut it out of the budget without justification. This quotes from the story says a lot, and really gives me hope for the future of man in space:

    “Lost in the furor over Constellation is the fact that Obama’s budget actually increases NASA funding slightly. And as DISCOVER blogger Phil Plait points out at Bad Astronomy, private companies were on track to reach orbit faster than the Constellation program even before this proposed sea change in the government’s approach to spaceflight.”

    “In place of the Constellation program’s Ares rockets and Orion crew capsule, Obama’s plan calls for funneling money to private companies that are jockeying for NASA contracts.”

    Now maybe if those whining dogs in Congress could waddle off their cushy couches, or otherwise start using what passes for brains in that vacuous space between their ears, they might realise that the loss of a few NASA jobs just might be replaced by real development in the business community in their districts.

  • badnicolez

    Unfortunately, much of NASA’s increased funding will now go toward earth science to study “climate change,” not space-related subjects.

    It is not really feasible to go to Mars unless we go back to the moon first, since long-term human studies in a low-gravity environment need to happen before we even think about a multiple-year trip to Mars. Talk about a waste, the private companies are starting from scratch and now every penny spent so far on Constellation will have been a complete waste, just when we had the first successful test of the Ares I.

    This was the one government program to which you could point and say it wasn’t a waste, expensive, yes, but not a waste, but they’re very quickly changing that.

  • miles_21

    we need space vehicles for the regular joe. im sick of it that space exploring is only done by a small minority.

  • http://valeriecudnik.com Valerie Cudnik

    Considering Obama gave a speech during his campaign specifically saying he supported NASA’s mission AND funding, I’m surprised there isn’t a bigger outrage of yet another lie.

    While I think trips to the moon and Mars are a complete and total waste of money, the fact is, NASA develops cutting-edge technology… technology that is used by our military and intelligence communities. The focus on that needs to remain.

    Funneling money to contractors? Huh? If there weren’t billion of dollars to be made, these businesses wouldn’t have been trying to privatize the space industry for over 20 years.

  • khiv

    space exploration and furthur research are our future!!!IN fact most important and useful technological advancement made is due to space research!relanding on the moon will help in the costruction of the lunar base station where experiments and research will be carried out for the progress of humanity!!

  • David Kaye

    Along with cutting off water to the San Joachim Valley in California and bankrupting thousands of farmers in order to save a 2 inch Smelt, cancelling NASA’s moon program takes top spot for idiocy from this administration which is headed by the worst U.S. President of all time.
    This man’s agenda is to transform the country into a moribund Socialist state. The US space program was the envy of the world and the benefits it has brought are enormous, from medical breakthrus to cell phones. Hopefully this arrogant egomaniac will soon be impeached. Or perhaps he could be put into orbit with Pelosi, Reed, Holder and the other wackos.

  • Dylan

    the government is wasting money on stupid things we do need to be more focused on NASA and getting to different planets and advancing in our technology.

  • cole

    The government should give some funding to NASA and stop wasteing it on them selves.

  • Isis

    IT WAS AMIZING AND COOLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Rachel

    This is quite a problem. I live in Houston, only a few minutes away from the NASA headquarters, and I can tell you that people are terrified of losing jobs. Aerospace techs and engineers are horrified at the loss of the Constellation program and other particular funding. NASA will be laying off over 4000 jobs because of the cut-backs on these programs. These NASA employees, including friends and family of mine, are specialized in this field of work (space and earth sciences as well as other Technological jobs invloved in Physics and Aerospace) and there is no other place for them to get a job very quickly. That is over 4000 jobs lost and people with no income if only one family member works. The cut-backs on these space programs are devostating to our area whether people know it or not.

  • Ringo Phonebone

    Let me get this straight… he want’s to privatize something the government runs that is wasting taxpayer money, and nationalize something that is private which isn’t?

    Now I’ve heard it all.

  • matt

    I understand that it must be really hard for the president to divide up the nation’s yearly budget, but how could they stop funding future NASA programs? If private companies take over space programs there will be no structure left in our way of exploring space. The moon, however, wouldn’t be my pick to return to, but Mars and other locations in our solar system should definitely be up there on the president’s agenda. I have to say that this is some of the most disappointed news that I’ve heard from the President.

  • Grant


    I am in favor of cutting budget to a over budget program that is behind and turning the focus back on the larger picture. An earlier poster said it best, lets get out of the Space Bus business and leave it to the private companies and focus on the rest of our galaxy and universe. 40 years later and billions spent still going to the moon.

    The private companies will not be starting from scratch, they have been around for some time and the thing they lacked was money. Ok so now these engineers can go to the private sector where it is sure going to see an increase of investment.

  • paul

    This is a long time in coming. The U.S. has de-industrialized through free trade and the government can’t support a robust space program anymore. Privatizing it is a cop out and will not yield meaningful results. Space exploration is by nature an unprofitable, expensive enterprise, undertaken by large states. This will destroy great union jobs and increase the pork, which will now be distributed to the best lobbying corp (think Haliburton).
    Obama hasn’t naturalized anything (except the bank’s losses). He is a capitalist, not a socialist. This pretty much strikes the death knell of space research as we know it. Russia is much too poor to continue its program post 1991, and China and India are too poor to do any exploration past copying our past accomplishments.

  • ricky reilly

    this is all pathetic alex w and alex r agrees with me

  • Merlin

    NASA could have insured their survival had they just told the truth about the things they were finding in the solar system and on the moon. We the people are tired of a tax payer space program that keeps all its earth shattering discoveries secret. I E: Rueins on the moon. They killed their own agency with their own secrecy.

  • Nikkeya

    I think that that once again Obama has lied, as stated earlier. He was all for funding NASA when he wanted elected. And for those of you that stand behind him, think about it for a minute. It is not just NASA being injured, it is your children as well. Starting in elementary school, they start talking about space travel and landing on the moon. That is part of our history and science. So there is two classes that the kids will lose out in. Also, several schools have programs called young astronauts. Most of these programs are free and/or funded by the school. This is a very neat program and kids learn alot from it. So once again, the kids of tomorrow, the ones that will be in congress and a president one day, will lose out on some of the most important things the US has been known for. We can’t make a very good T.V., cell phone, radio, or a pair of jeans hardly, but we are known for NASA. Way to take something else from deserving americans. One other thing, it is something like 4000 men and women that will posibly lose their jobs, what about these people and their families? What happens to the economy when they no longer have the funds to do anything? What happens when they have to go to welfare and get assistance, because they can’t just go out and get another job doing the same thing? So where does the cut back really help? If the goverment wants to save funds and cut back from somewhere, I am all for it, how about they all start with a pay cut themselves if they are so worried about america and the common man?

  • Sherry

    I am so sick of hearing how NASA is “wasting” the fraction of the Federal Budget they receive! They are NOT taking it up in space and flushing it down the space station toilet!!!. They pay AMERICAN employees & AMERICAN contractors, buy parts from AMERICAN businesses and 95% of that money goes back into the economy. Technologies are discovered and passed down to the people, who buy it and put money back into the economy. Next time you grab your cell or use your latest cordless appliance, thank a NASA contractor… If there are any left…

  • mason storm

    I think this is one of the few times imo when privatization is a really good idea. Whether we think it’s necessary or not, we need to continue to develop new forms of space travel and technology to facilitate it. What the ppl whose only argument is “we have too many problems down here to be worrying about this,” they fail to understand the two most important implications of aeronautical research. The first is for national defense… it’s bad enough that nasa has to rely on Russia to ferry them to the ISS. If we keep going at this rate, our disadvantage will only grow as they continue to develop new technologies in their space program while we pump the brakes on ours. Is air and space superiority something you really want the Russians to have? It doesn’t seem like a good idea for any one country to have, let alone one whom we have a sketchy history with. The second is that with aeronautical research comes a flood of new technologies, most of which are very applicable to us down on earth. For example, if it wasn’t for nasa, we wouldn’t have the chips that we use for non-invasive biopsies, solar energy, and a whole litany of other things (http://www.thespaceplace.com/nasa/spinoffs.html#Top has a good number of inventions that most of us don’t know came from our space program). And if you’re one of those ppl that are so skeptical (or cynical imo) that you still don’t think that any of the things on this list warrant a larger investment in a privatized space industry, just remember that while you sleep at night, you most likely have nasa to thank for that, too. If you use any type of home security system, chances are they use infrared and laser technology that came out of nasa’s research (just look at the adt security systems infrared camera page. They even admit that the technology came from nasa!)

  • Elias

    I do not agree to privatize the space exploration, there are other countries with more money available than us that can buy that technology too. This companies will sell the technology to the country that pay them more. This is a national security issue too. Also, MRI technology is thanks to NASA too. In the future China, Russia, and others countries can pay or offer more money to the private companies and what do you think is going to happen? Where are we going? countries with more money will be one step ahead from us if the space program is privatized. NASA should have all the money necessary to develope new technologies, space exploration, research, and defense. I do agree to come back to the moon because if we are planning to go to Mars we need a new spaceship or rockets that we can prove them going to the moon first, coming back to the moon is the first step to go to mars. I am not going to vote for Obama!

  • Steve

    SPACE THE FINAL FRONTIER…..Where is STAR FLEET when you need them…….YES we are NOT alone, and SPACE IS NOT JUST OURS, I am against taking any funding away from NASA. They have discovered so much and GIVEN so much to man kind, but maybe (we) meaning the whole EARTH should form a Federation And every nation should help foot the Bill $$$$ . We need to learn to work togeather and get RID of the petty Greedy Power Hungry crap, if we are going to GROW as a species and venture out into space. Gene Roddenbury had it RIGHT !.

  • Steve

    Constellation Program (abbreviated CxP) was a human spaceflight program within NASA, the space agency of the United States. The stated goals of the program were to gain significant experience in operating away from Earth’s environment, develop technologies needed for opening the space frontier, and conduct fundamental science.[1]

    Constellation was developed through the Exploration Systems Architecture Study, which determined how NASA would pursue the goals laid out in the Vision for Space Exploration and the NASA Authorization Act of 2005, to send astronauts first to the International Space Station, then to the Moon, and afterward to Mars and other destinations beyond.[2]

    On February 1, 2010, President Barack Obama announced a proposal to cancel the program, effective with the U.S. 2011 fiscal year budget[update],[3][4][5][6] but later announced changes to the proposal in a major space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010. Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 on October 11 which officially brought the program to an end. WOW what a Travisty!

  • nicole

    wtf!i just finished watchin discovery.n they think dares a HUGE possibility dat human was NEVER on da moon.they think they faked it in area 51.the rockets tht was launched orbited the earth for 8 days while people faked it in area 51 then they came bak down 2 earth.people FROM NASA was saying its possible nasa lied!i kinda believe it now.in the vvideo wen he lands, there r no stars n da flag is flappin wen there is no air on da moon.also, theres no crater where da rocket landed.n all the footprits r “still there” even after the rocket was “launched back to earth” spreading sand everywhere didnt cover it up

  • Mike

    Holy $hit you are dumb ^^^

  • http://zefskennels.com Zefrey Love

    Hello this is Zefey Love, It is not very smart to cut the very source that gave us the technology for a safer Defense, in 1957, it wasn’t the prospect that cosmonauts might beat American astronauts into space that worried Washington. What had policymakers panicked was the prospect that America’s main Cold War adversary would use the same (rocket technology) to develop a force of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) , its not the time to stop progress and technology, now that you’re into it so deeply,It’s like waving a white flag.

  • http:// Eugenio Cywinski

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  • AcNiw

    Good morning everyone, I have done alot of research working for a privately owned astrophysics team. If noone understand’s what’s truly been going on for quite a while
    This is new leak in the government that they do not wish for you to hear,Some may say.
    Back in 2002 We all learned about a new shuttle that was about 4 times the size of the one’s we currently have in out hangers. But it was never releaved to where the location of this shuttle had been put.,They had said they were going to use this for future missions to other planets. So here we are saying goodbye to the Space progam,But in all reality if you would pay attention to the news more often instead of many other things, And if you studied the Earth as I do, You would know that they are actually trying to find a way to save everyone from what is about to happen in the near future,As you all know about a comet and astroid they have claimed to not be in our heading but actually we are in it’s heading and there’s nothing noone can do nor nothing noone can say that will change anything. So this is the final mission to space ,Due to the end of the world coming from the astroid and comet coming our way,As you also were aware that a planet does not just pop up out of no where we’ve been to this other planet you can look up the new planet that is actually our brightest star out there as well. So God Bless and God speed to everyone..


  • Jahn(John)

    All you degenerates who claim NASA should have budget cuts cause of tax money are simply uninformed idiots.

    the US citizens are paying taxes for wall street BAILOUTS in the trillions. . . ie morgage insurance companies, hedgefunds/private investment firms, banks and currently international banks ( bank of scottland and bank of London….) so stop talking about taxes. U guys have no idea where are tax dollars are going… Let alone it’s uselessness – the collapse of the economy is at hand.

  • Jeremy

    What some of you do not realize is that there is a system to advancement. We can’t just design and fly to Mars, its not like that. The flight to Mars would take years and we are not yet sure how that kind of time would effect astronauts on the deep space mission. Tests need to be run on the moon before they can be sure that the safety and health of those on the mission in that deep of space would be possible or how to achieve it. There have also been many new more efficient ways to travel to space being designed and tested. Lowering the budget is essentially killing the hope that NASA had to travel back to and beyond the moon, at least for now.


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