Sunday, January 24, 2010

Obama Admin Looks to Outsource US Human Spaceflight

It looks like NASA may not be in the Human Spaceflight business for long. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, the Obama Administration will look to fund private human spaceflight to low Earth orbit and perhaps even beyond using a portion of NASA budget.

This decision will open a whole host of questions not the least of which will be how safe will these untried companies be for transporting US astronauts into orbit. The idea of sending US astronauts to the International Space Station and perhaps beyond took hold when Norm Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin, headed up a presidential commission to examine where US Human Spaceflight is headed. They released a report recommending that the US should fund private spaceflight companies to send US astronauts into low Earth orbit (mainly to the ISS). The Ares I rocket and the Orion Spacecraft which forms the backbone NASA planned Human Spaceflight future (to the ISS and the moon) continues to be underfunded and behind schedule thanks mainly to NASA's underfunding through the years.

If Congress goes along with this proposal this would make a huge reversal for an Agency that put the first man on the moon and has pioneered many first in both US Spaceflight and in Aviation. The idea of NASA not sending up astronauts is Earth shattering to say the least. Whether it actually comes to pass is a big question. I do see parts of the NASA hierarchy and Congress (particularly those with constituencies in Houston, Florida and California) lining up to ensure that NASA's budget is not used to fund private space travel but also these constituencies will aim to increase NASA Human Spaceflight budget to make sure that Human Spaceflight is driven by NASA. One other recommendation that the Augustine Commission made was that NASA pursue a new Heavy Lift rocket which would allow the US ton conduct missions to Mars and possibly the Asteroid Belt. This recommendation, it seems is not addressed in the President's budget proposal that should come out in February.

WSJ:White House Decides to Outsource NASA Work

No comments: