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Bay Area Houston Guidry News Gazette
Forum
NASA and Human Spaceflight Funding Update
by BAHEP President Bob Mitchell
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I am sure many of you have already heard – if not I want to share some good news. Last night at 6:30 p.m., I was informed that President Obama is changing his proposed plans for the 2011 NASA budget. The proposed budget that was announced on Feb. 1 was devastating to this community. The new, revised plan lessens the impact tremendously.

The president has announced through a White House spokesman that he will save the Orion and immediately begin the design and development of a new heavy lift vehicle to carry American astronauts beyond low Earth orbit. While there are many details that will come out over the days and weeks ahead, the bottom line is that this new strategy will mean America will continue to lead the world in human space exploration. We anticipate the president may spread out the current space shuttle flights, and possibly add an additional flight, extending the program to 2012. (This is my opinion and has not yet been stated officially.)

The BAHEP staff truly appreciates your support during this difficult time. I will say that we must continue an aggressive position to maintain America’s superiority in space thereby ensuring our world leadership and national security. The information below outlines some of the highlights that the president will announce tomorrow during his presentation at Kennedy Space Center.

Details of the Plan:

  • Advances America's commitment to human spaceflight and exploration of the solar system, with a bold new vision and timetable for reaching new frontiers deeper in space.
  • Increases NASA's budget by $6 billion over 5 years.
  • Begins major work on building a new heavy lift rocket sooner, with a commitment to decide in 2015 on the specific heavy-lift rocket that will take us deeper into space.
  • Initiates a vigorous new technology development and test program to increase the capabilities and reduce the cost of future exploration activities.
  • Restructures Constellation and directs NASA to develop the Orion crew capsule effort in order to provide stand-by emergency escape capabilities for the Space Station - thereby reducing our reliance on foreign providers.
  • Establishes the technological foundation for future crew spacecraft needed for missions beyond low Earth orbit.
  • Increases the number of astronaut days in space by 3,500 over the next decade, extends the life of the International Space Station, likely beyond 2020, and enables the launching of astronauts on new vehicles from the Kennedy Space Center 1- 2 years sooner.
  • Makes strategic investments to develop critical knowledge, technologies, and capabilities to expand long-duration human exploration into deep space in a more efficient and safe manner, thus getting us to more destinations in deep space sooner.

Restructuring the Orion Crew Capsule:

The goal is to take advantage of the best work undertaken in the Constellation program. The President is announcing that NASA will restructure the Orion crew exploration vehicle program to a simpler and more efficient design that will be focused on crew emergency escape from the International Space Station. Under the Constellation program, the Orion crew capsule was intended to house astronauts during their travel to the International Space Station and later missions to the Moon. It also was to be capable of docking at the Space Station for six months and returning crews to the Earth. As part of the President's new plan for NASA, the development work already performed on this capability will be re-oriented to meet the important safety requirement of providing stand-by emergency escape capabilities for astronauts on the space Station. We will be able to launch this vehicle within the next few years, creating an American crew escape capability that will increase the safety of our crews on the Space Station, reduce our dependence on foreign providers, and simplify requirements for other commercial crew providers. This effort will also help establish a technological foundation for future exploration spacecraft needed for human missions beyond low Earth orbit and will preserve some critical high-tech contractor jobs in Colorado, Texas, and Florida.

Developing a Heavy Lift Rocket, with a Specific Decision in 2015, to Expand Our Reach in Space:

To demonstrate a concrete timetable and commitment for expanding human exploration further, the President is announcing that, in addition to investing in transformative heavy-lift technologies, he will commit to making a specific decision in 2015 on the development of a new heavy-lift rocket architecture. This new rocket would eventually lift future deep-space spacecraft to enable humans to expand our reach toward Mars and the rest of the Solar System. This new rocket would take advantage of the new technology investments proposed in the budget - primarily a $3.1 billion investment over five years on heavy-lift R&D. This propulsion R&D effort will include development of a U.S. first-stage hydrocarbon engine for potential use in future heavy lift (and other) launch systems, as well as basic research in areas such as new propellants, advanced propulsion materials manufacturing techniques, combustion processes, and engine health monitoring, all of which are expected to shorten the development time for any future heavy-lift rocket. The new rocket also will benefit from the budget's proposed R&D on other breakthrough technologies in our new strategy for human exploration (such as in- space refueling), which should make possible a more cost-effective and optimized heavy lift capability as part of future exploration architectures. A decision in 2015 means that major work on building a new heavy lift rocket will likely begin two years sooner than under the troubled Constellation program.

Editor's note: Bob Mitchell has clarified his position in this message, stressing that his comments were not intended to give the impression that he completely endorses the President's new plan for human spaceflight. More



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