Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Is our space vision still shortsighted?

Moon and Mars
Two years ago, retired aerospace executive Norman Augustine headed up a commission that led the White House to scrap NASA's "unexecutable" back-to-the-moon program and focus instead on a step-by-step path to send humans beyond Earth orbit, to an asteroid by 2025, and to the environs of Mars by the 2030s.

Now NASA is nearing the end of the shuttle program, gearing up to mark Thursday's 50th anniversary of U.S. human spaceflight ... and dealing with an uncertain future for human spaceflight. Augustine says NASA is mostly following the short-term prescription he and his colleagues have laid out, but he worries that NASA's long-term future could be a case of deja vu all over again.

In an interview, Augustine told me that NASA could once again face a situation where its budget doesn't match the task it's been given. The current year's $18.45 billion budget is a bit less than last year's, and includes $3 billion for work on a heavy-lift rocket and a spaceship that could eventually go beyond Earth orbit.

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