A congressionally appointed panel studying human space flight said this month it will take $3 billion more, per year, for the U.S. to send humans out of low earth orbit in the next decade. Members of the U.S. Human Space Flight Committee testified in Washington, DC. They told the House Science and Technology Committee that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration should continue blasting the Space Shuttle into orbit.
After next year, the Space Shuttles that carried U.S. astronauts into orbit over the past 30 years will fly no more. The U.S. government, bowing to budget pressure, plans to retire the shuttle program in about two years. Then, human exploration by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is expected to end, temporarily. Officials say development of a new system will take time.
The U.S. Human Space Flight Committee told key members of the U.S. House that it will take at least another seven years before the U.S. will launch another human into space. Norman Augustine heads the human space flight panel.
"NASA has too long been placed in the position of being tried to accomplish more than the resources it's been given. We find that to be very wasteful and very hazardous when dealing with such a challenging field as human space flight, which is very unforgiving," said Norman Augustine, the retired CEO of aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin. He adds that NASA needs $3 billion more annually to continue with its goals.
The International Space Station, fully staffed with a crew of six, is dependent on the shuttle and the Russian space program to deliver crewmembers and material. The panel suggested the space station should fly until 2025, and the shuttles continue a few more years.
Augustine told legislators that it costs about $2.5 billion a year to fly the shuttle one or two times a year, but that there also "safety issues."
NASA's next human flight program is called The Constellation. The Ares One and Ares Five launch vehicles would bring astronauts to low earth orbit and to the moon. But all this takes time, so says space flight panel member Ed Crawley.
"That to build a new rocket, a human rated rocket, from where we are on the Ares or Ares Five, will take at least another five or six years," he explained.
Democrat Gabrielle Giffords expressed anger and frustration with the report.
GIFFORDS: "Instead of focusing on how to strengthen the exploration program in which we have, investing so much time and four years and billions of dollars, we have a glancing look at Constellation - even referring to it in the past tense in your summary."
AUGUSTINE: "We've made no such recommendation. One of the options, option three, is to continue the existing program, but to fund it correctly. If we can't afford to do it right, then we shouldn't do it. We should back off. It's unfair to the astronauts. It's unfair to the nation."
The full panel review will be sent to Congress later this month.