Administration to Review NASA Space Flight Program

By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 7, 2009 4:54 PM

A major strategic shift in human space flight could be in the offing for NASA.

The Obama Administration has ordered up a sweeping, if rather swift, outside review of the agency's plans for replacing the space shuttle. The review committee, to be led by former aerospace executive Norman Augustine, will have 90 days to survey the full range of human space flight architecture, NASA and administration officials announced today.

In the meantime, NASA will continue as planned with its Constellation program, which features two new rockets, Ares I and Ares V, and a new capsule, Orion.

In a letter to NASA Acting Administrator Christopher Scolese, the president's science adviser, John Holdren, wrote that "it would be only prudent" to review NASA's human space flight program given the magnitude of its ambitions and "the significant investment of both funds and scientific capital."

Every aspect of human space flight -- including long-term goals -- will be on the table, Scolese said after a news briefing today.

"This is a human space flight study. The name is important," he said.

In 2004, President Bush unveiled his Vision for Space Exploration, the basis for NASA's current strategy. The plan calls for the completion of the International Space Station, the retirement of the space shuttle, and the creation of new rockets and a new crew capsule to ferry astronauts into orbit and then back to the moon by 2020.

Obama has voiced support for NASA's plan to return astronauts to the moon by 2020, but after the November election the Obama transition team began asking questions about the shape of the Constellation program. Then-NASA administrator Michael Griffin vehemently objected what he perceived as second-guessing of the agency's engineering decisions.

Meanwhile Sen. Bill Nelson (D.-Fla.) issued a statement today expressing distress at the out-year numbers in the administration's budget proposal, which he believes shows too little money for human space flight.

"Down the road the administration's budget does not match what candidate Obama said about the future of our space program," Nelson said. "Still, he's assured me these numbers are subject to change, pending a review he has ordered of NASA."

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