By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 23, 2009
Put more money into NASA's human space flight program, or forget about going anywhere new and interesting with astronauts, a blue-ribbon panel told the White House on Thursday.
In its final report, "Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation," the 10-person committee led by former aerospace executive Norman Augustine said NASA's program "is at a tipping point where either additional funds must be provided or the exploration program first instituted by President Kennedy must be abandoned at least for the time being."
About $3 billion a year more would be needed to have a robust exploration program, and even more than that to keep the existing program essentially on schedule, according to the report.
The committee had a jaundiced view of the Ares I rocket under development to replace the space shuttle. But the 154-page report stopped short of calling for the Ares I to be killed.
"It's a very expensive vehicle," Augustine said after a news conference in Washington.
Instead, the committee said, NASA could pump billions of dollars into a public-private partnership to build a cheaper no-frills spacecraft that could ferry astronauts to orbit by 2016. NASA, Augustine said, should be building spaceships that can travel to distant destinations "rather than running a trucking service to low earth orbit."
The NASA exploration program calls for two new rockets, a new crew capsule, a lunar lander by 2020 and a moon base. The Augustine panel said a return to the moon would be a viable strategy if NASA had more money. The panel also put forward what it calls a "flexible path," which would involve building a heavy-lift rocket to blast astronauts beyond low orbit. Missions might include the repairing of distant telescopes, a rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid, a flyby of Mars and perhaps a visit to one of the Martian moons.