27 February 2009
News - Vehicles (Good)
Returning to the Moon Back in the Budget
But how to get there from here?
by G B Leatherwood
US President Obama’s budget containing some hopeful directions for the space program…we think. Nestled within the thousand-page document is an increase in NASA’s budget: US$18.7 billion for 2010, which is US$2.4 billion more than the total for 2008; the House of Representatives also passed a bill on February 25, 2009, increasing the budget by US$360 million to the human space exploration budget for 2009.

And part of this money will be dedicated to human spaceflight, specifically returning to the Moon by 2020.

The return of humans to space may have been spurred on by spacemeister Buzz Aldrin and his astronaut colleagues, who have called for a new direction in the US space effort.

However, it’s still not clear how, or even if, the proposal by the Obama administration—originally drafted by the Bush administration—for the new Constellation program to return American astronauts to the moon by 2020 can be accomplished.

One major problem is the vehicle to get them there and back. Early demands called for a new direction in the vehicle, but what is being put together looks a lot like a piece of the Apollo program, a piece of the Shuttle program, and some technology still under development, such as a rocket called Ares.

“The Ares program has seen some tough engineering challenges, including a potentially destructive vibration problem that could destroy the rocket in flight, and questions about whether developing two rockets--one for the astronauts and one for the hardware--makes practical sense,” according to an article in FastCompany. NASA engineers caused somewhat of a stir by proposing a different vehicle design that may or may not wind up under construction.

The real question is what the Constellation program intends to accomplish. If the US government wants to send a few people to the Moon to inspire the country, that’s a fine idea – but alone, it’s not the best use of those billions of dollars. If the US government is sincere in its efforts to return humans to the Moon, it’s imperative that we establish a lasting foothold in orbit in order to make returning to the Moon more economically feasible – not just for NASA, or even other space agencies, but also for private entrepreneurs. That’s the way to really open up space to exploration, and it’s also an excellent way to start new industries and new businesses back on the surface.
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G B Leatherwood 27 February 2009
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