Future of NASA human space flight program in flux

Committee report says getting back to the Moon by 2020 probably not possible with current budget; report heading to President Obama for review.

By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor

Can NASA get man back to the moon by 2020?

An independent panel says, probably not if the status quo is maintained.

The Human Space Flight Plan Committee recently released a study that took issue with a lot of the goals set by President Bush in 2004.

The committee met with NASA a few days ago.

Doc Mirelson is a senior advisor at NASA’s public affairs office and told Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris more on the Daily Debrief.

He began by explaining that the Obama administration still has to review the study, which laid out possible options.

After the President reviews them, he will decide where NASA will head.

“The panel came about from a request from the White House to review existing policies in manned human space flight plans for the future. [This is] typical of a new Administration to review various programs and policies. NASA was asked to administer the panel. The committee was formed under the Federal Advisory Committee Act as an independent agency, which would report directly to the White House. They were given three months to review existing plans and to create a series of options to present to the administration.”

The panel’s primary role was to review human space flight. Mirelson said other aspects of NASA — the aerospace area, for example — were not examined by this particular committee.

Now that the panel has released its ideas, Mirelson said it depends on the budget.

“The committee was tasked with getting their options to the White House by August 31, and it looks like they’ll probably make that deadline. What the administration does with their recommendations, I think, will affect the budget from 2011 out — I don’t know how far out. I think that’s going to be up to them. That will affect exactly what happens with the man-space program.”

Of course, Congress has a say, as well.

The committee did not say NASA needs more money; rather, the report noted that getting back to the moon by 2020 would be unattainable under the present budget.

“One of the committee’s options that they presented was going along with the present program, but slowing things down to meet the funding. What the [current] administration does to speed up or not speed up or to retain a human space flight program is yet to be seen.”

One of the bottom line statements, Mirelson said, had to do with the panel acknowledging that many of NASA’s current plans were probably unachievable within the next decade at the present budget level.

This does not mean, though, that the agency will get a change in funding. All decisions are up to the President in terms of asking Congress for money.

As for the committee, Mirelson said he thought it was overall helpful.

“These type of panels are not out of the ordinary within a new administration or at certain points along programs. The manned exploration program is a long term vision and there has to be review points along the way. You look at the members of this committee and the expertise that they’ve brought to the table as an independent operation — I think [this] will be extremely helpful to the administration, as well as NASA.”

Mirelson added that it is natural for any governmental agency to be concerned about its budget and NASA is no exception, but the work must go on.

“NASA was given the instructions to proceed as normal . . . while this committee was doing their work, and that’s what’s happening. The Constellation program, which is the new manned space flight program, is rolling along. We have several tests coming up — various equipment tests — so until the administration changes direction, if they choose to do that, it’s business as usual, but, of course, looking ahead to future budgets, there’s always trepidation about how you’ll be able to sustain any kind of momentum.”

On the Web:

NASA — Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee

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