July 30, 2009

NASA Engineers Defend Agency’s Future Plans

Speaking before a presidential panel on Wednesday, NASA engineers defended the next generation of its space exploration program.

President Barack Obama has called for the Human Space Flight Review panel to determine the value of NASA's current plan, enacted by President George W. Bush.

Under the current plan, NASA plans to retire its shuttle fleet by the end of 2010. The space agency's "Constellation" program is already underway, and engineers have spent four years developing its new Ares rocket.

Engineers defended the Ares rocket on Wednesday, stating that it was safe, fast and monetarily within reach.

"We have done what we said we would do and we are well on the way to our first test flight," said Steve Cook, head of the Ares project at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

"There have been several outside reviews since we began."

NASA has plans to test launch the Ares I rocket, which is intended to carry astronauts into space in the new Orion space capsule, by October 31.

Engineers are in the early stages of development for its larger Ares V rocket, which would be used to carry large payloads into orbit for Moon and Mars missions.

Former chief executive of Lockheed Martin, Norman Augustine, headed the committee. He was appointed by Obama in May to take a critical look at the space agency and its future.

Augustine told reporters that the committee would provide president Obama with a variety of options for NASA's future, including no changes at all or continuing use of the space shuttle for longer than initially planned.

"We will not be in the tweaking business," Augustine told reporters.

"Do not close off options. Do not allow the parochial voices of the small-minded, the self-interested, and the uninformed to prevail. Choose the future," former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said in a letter.

Griffin met behind closed doors with the presidential panel on Wednesday.

"This strategy cannot work. A safe and robust human spaceflight program cannot be built, 'on the cheap'," Griffin added.

The presidential panel is discussing options that would allow private firms to compete for the development of space transport systems.

"My God, great NASA has been to the moon and we are sort of thinking that it is a big challenge for us to continue going to (low-Earth orbit)? Let's turn it over to newcomers," Bohdan "Bo" Bejmuk, a former Boeing Co executive, told the panel.

"I think you will find out there are a lot of people who will rise and compete. Some of them will fail, some of them will succeed, but you will have essentially created a new industry."


Image Caption: A concept image shows the Ares I crew launch vehicle during ascent. Ares I is an in-line, two-stage rocket configuration topped by the Orion crew exploration vehicle and launch abort system. The Ares I first stage is a single, five-segment reusable solid rocket booster, derived from the space shuttle. Its upper stage is powered by a J-2X engine. Ares I will carry the Orion with its crews of up to six astronauts to Earth orbit. Image credit: NASA/MSFC


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