September 9, 2009

Panel Says NASA’s Moon Plans “˜Not Viable’

The White House's panel of space experts has concluded that NASA's plans simply don't match up with its budget for future space exploration.

"Under the budget that was proposed, exploration beyond Earth is not viable," panel member Edward Crawley, a professor of aeronautics at MIT, told the Associated Press.

The report issues changes for each of NASA's mission deadlines, including a proposal by President George W. Bush for the space agency to return to the moon by 2020.

The plan was intended to reach its deadline by retiring the space shuttle fleet in 2010, and ending operations at the International Space Station in 2015.

The panel found that NASA would require about $3 billion each year in addition to the agency's $18 billion annual budget.

So far, NASA has spent $7.7 billion of its allotted $40 billion on developing its new rocket and capsule, according to Reuters.

The presidential panel discussed options for slimming down the Ares 5 booster, being developed by NASA, ATK Thiokol and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne.

Additionally, it addressed the possibility of upgrading the Delta 4 and/or Atlas 5 rockets from by United Launch Alliance, a joint partnership of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin, according to Reuters.

Another option would be for NASA to create a brand new capsule that would be compliant with others already existing.

Another proposal would shift NASA's focus away from the moon and toward Mars.

"You can say that Mars is a destination, but it's really more like Mars is a goal because we're not setting a date," Leroy Chiao, a former astronaut and member of the 10-person review board, told Reuters.

"It's saying these are the things we need to do to build up the infrastructure to get to Mars, this is how much money we have now, and we'll see in the next several years what we think we can get done. Then it'll be for the next budget cycles after that to figure out when we might actually get to Mars."

NASA's proposal agrees with the panel's conclusion that the ISS should be used to test medical procedures, life support equipment and propulsion systems for Mars missions.


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