President Obama’s proposed $3.8 billion federal budget is a massive, complicated document, but according to administration officials the budget contains no funding for NASA’s Ares I, Ares 5, and Orion space vehicles, which had been intended to replace the soon-to-be-completely retired Space Shuttle fleet and return America to the Moon by 2020.
The last manned mission to the Moon was Apollo 17 in 1972. A return to the Moon with an eye towards establishing a permanent base was part of former president George W. Bush’s plan for expanded space exploration.
Under the Constellation program, astronauts would make it to the moon in the Orion space vehicle, which uses that can loosely be describes as a larger version of the original Apollo vehicles. Orion would be powered by the Ares 5 launch vehicle, which would be a rocket on a scale of the famous Saturn 5s that powered the Apollo program; the smaller Ares 1 are intended for smaller payloads and orbital insertions, such as missions to support the International Space Station (ISS).
Instead of manned lunar missions, President Obama wants NASA to concentrate on supporting the ISS and other earth-orbit projets; Obama’s plan also calls on NASA to outsource launches and other systems and operations to private space contractors to save money. Key players in such outsourcing plans would likely be aerospace and defense giants like Boeing.
The cancellation of the Constellation program is not yet a done deal; after all, Congress must first approve the proposed federal budget. A good deal of engineering and design effort has already been expended on the Constellation program, and representatives from states that would be impacted by the budgets cuts are sure to put up a fight to keep high-paid engineering jobs in their districts. The decision to end Constellation funding may also turn into a political hot potato: with the retirement of the shuttle fleet and no replacement launch vehicle ready to go, Russian Soyuz craft will be the only launch vehicles capable of reaching the ISS.
Image credits: NASA
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