Expert Group Says NASA Budget Too Small for Big Space Plans



An expert panel advising NASA and the Obama administration on the future of human space flight has concluded that going to Mars, or even returning to the Moon, is too expensive under the current budget.

The panel, including professors, former astronauts, and experts from the aerospace industry, has been holding a series of public meetings, hearing from Americans about what they want their country to do in space. At its final public meeting, here in Washington on Wednesday, the group had a different agenda.

"Today, our principal purpose is going to be to finalize the options that we presented when we last met a week ago and also to do an evaluation of them...," announced committee chairman Norman Augustine.

The former CEO of NASA contractor Lockheed Martin, opened the six-hour meeting, which ended up slashing the number of options under consideration from about a dozen to just four basic plans.

The committee was charged with developing human space flight options within current budget guidelines, but former astronaut Sally Ride presented detailed scenarios on the costs of the various options and concluded none of the options would fly, given the financial limitations they had to work with.

"I think the points here are fairly obvious: exploration really doesn't look viable under the [fiscal year 2010] budget guidance. Some things are more expensive than others. We've seen that. Deep Space appears to be the most cost-effective of the exploration scenarios, and it has earlier return also."

The Deep Space scenario she mentioned focuses on learning to work in space, including flybys of the Moon, Mars, or nearby asteroids, and possibly landing on the Moon two decades from now.

The committee also considered NASA's current roadmap — retiring the space shuttle next year, and using Russian spacecraft to get to the International Space Station until NASA's new Ares 1 rocket and Orion crew capsule are developed.

But the panel said that with the current budget, the new rocket and capsule wouldn't be ready until after the space station was shut down and crashed into the ocean — "deorbited" in NASA-speak — in 2016.

NASA's current Constellation program includes a bigger rocket, Ares 5, which would be capable of taking humans to the Moon after 2021. But the Augustine committee calculates the rocket won't be ready until 2028, given the present budget.

If NASA's current program is beyond its budget, Norman Augustine said more ambitious programs are equally out of reach.

"I think it would be fair to say that our view is that it would be difficult with the current budget to do anything that's terribly inspiring in the human space flight area. On the other hand, there are important things one can do to prepare for human space flight and for important achievements, it's just that they won't come as soon."

Human space flight is expensive, no question about it. The space station may end up costing around $100 billion dollars. Even dropping it in the ocean may cost a billion and a half.

For much of Thursday's meeting, the committee members ranked the various exploration options on eleven criteria, including increasing scientific knowledge, expanding technological innovation, promoting economic development, and expanding human civilization beyond Earth. Although the committee assigned scores on a five point scale to each criterion for each option, Augustine said you can't just add up the numbers to provide the best human space flight alternative.

"How you put that all together into a decision, yes or no, or we do this option or that option, depends on the weighting that you assign, of course, to each of those parameters. It includes how important is holding the cost down, how important is going to Mars early or not going to Mars at all, and that will be a judgment issue. I think in the end it'll have to be made by the president and the administrator of NASA, not by us."  

The Augustine committee is due to submit its final report to NASA and the White House in a couple of weeks. 

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs