December 30, 2008

Report: Atlas, Delta rockets to save money

U.S. military rockets can send astronauts safely to the moon sooner and for billions of dollars less than NASA's troubled Ares I rocket, documents suggest.

The documents, obtained by the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel, were presented to the transition team of President-elect Barack Obama three weeks ago. They say upgraded Atlas V and Delta IV rockets could be built and ready for astronauts to ride by 2013 -- two years earlier than Ares I -- and for up to $3.4 billion less than Ares's projected $10 billion price tag, the the Sentinel reported Tuesday.

Still, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said the Ares I rocket is the safest, most reliable and most affordable way of returning astronauts to the moon, the newspaper said.

He told the Sentinel the military Atlas and Delta rockets, developed for satellite delivery but which the documents assert could be fitted for human space flight, were not suitable for taking people back to the moon.

They lack the muscle needed to lift a new Apollo-like crew capsule, are too unsafe to fly human beings to the moon and would cost too much to be upgraded, he said.

Changing systems now would be a disaster for the U.S. space program, he said.

If Obama does not reappoint Griffin to head the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, his term will end Jan. 20.