On the eve of the fullest moon of the year, NASA scientists were told they won't be able to visit any longer. In his new budget, President Obama plans to eliminate the space program's manned moon missions.
When the president releases his budget on Monday, a White House official confirmed on Thursday, there will be a big hole where funding for NASA's Constellation program used to be. Constellation is the umbrella program that includes the Ares rocket -- the replacement for the aging space shuttles.
NASA will receive an additional $5.9 billion over five years, some of which will be used to extend the life of the International Space Station to 2020. The official said it also will be used to entice companies to build private spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the space station after the space shuttle retires.
The story was first reported in the Orlando Sentinel, which detailed that the forthcoming budget will include no funding for lunar landers, no moon bases, and no Constellation program at all. Instead, NASA will outsource space flight to other governments (such as the Russians) and private companies.
NASA's Constellation program aimed to create a new generation of spacecraft for human spaceflight, consisting primarily of the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles, the Orion crew capsule and the Altair Lunar Lander. These spacecraft would have been capable of performing a variety of missions, from International Space Station resupply to lunar landings.
But according to the Sentinel, White House insiders and agency officials say NASA will eventually look at developing a new "heavy-lift" rocket that one day will take humans and robots to explore beyond low Earth orbit years in the future -- and possibly even decades or more.
In the meantime, the White House will direct NASA to concentrate on Earth-science projects -- principally, researching and monitoring climate change -- and on a new technology research and development program that will one day make human exploration of asteroids and the solar system possible.
There will also be funding for private companies to develop capsules and rockets that can be used as space taxis, reports the Sentinel. These companies may take astronauts on fixed-price contracts to and from the International Space Station -- a major change in the way the agency has done business for the past 50 years.
NASA's budget, just over $18.7 billion this year, is still expected to rise again in 2011, reports Space.com, though by much less than the $1 billion increase NASA and its contractors have been privately anticipating since mid-December. A White House-appointed panel, led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine, urged these changes on the administration in December.
The panel also said a worthwhile manned space exploration program would require Obama to budget about $55 billion for human spaceflight over the next five years, some $11 billion more than he included in the 2011-2015 forecast he sent Congress last spring.