Saturday, January 30, 2010

Say Goodbye to Constellation & America's Manned Space Program

For years there have been rumblings from NASA that the shuttle's replacement, collectively known as the Constellation system, was in big financial trouble. The shuttle program has been on its last legs for a while now and with shuttle operations ending at the latest next year, the US will need a new system to get people into space. In September the Obama administration put together a task force headed by Norm Augustine to determine what to do about the whole mess. The Augustine commission decided that NASA needed a major budget boost or to give up either the International Space Station (which won't even be completed until 2011) or the Constellation program.

The news this week is that Obama has decided to give up the Constellation program, meaning that the US will be without manned space-flight capability for at least the next decade. The Obama administration seems to have pinned their hopes on private companies like Boeing and Lockheed developing human spaceflight systems, much the way they have done for unmanned orbital rockets. When will those be available? Nobody knows. Right now there are rumors flying, but details should be more forthcoming after a 3PM EST press conference at NASA headquarters this coming Monday.

It's hard to blame Obama for cutting Constellation - his government is running a $1.7 trillion dollar a year deficit and the country is mired in a economic slump, so there isn't much money for a budget increase and the space station is practically already built - but I for one am sad to see it go. While Constellation might not have been the ideal system, having the US drop off the list of countries capable of putting people into orbit is disappointing.


On a somewhat unrelated note, in looking for information on this topic I found a great blog for space-related news . I recommend checking it out if you're interested in what goes on at NASA.


  1. Interesting Nick. Thanks for that blog link.

  2. I'm going to play the optimist and hope that something happens before the final draft gets signed. However, I can really see the issue. When you're stuck in a slow economy, things like missions to the Moon take back seat, no matter what long-term benefits they would have. Right now most people are concerned about the here and now.

  3. You're right Bill, but I have to think that if the Bush administration had focused on simply a shuttle replacement instead of a moon-capable system this wouldn't have happened. Not that this is entirely Bush's fault - you could make the arguement that the blame goes all the way back to Nixon for cancelling the Apollo program - but there have been a lot of chances to fix things that simply weren't taken.

  4. True. Honestly, the shuttle has needed a replacement for a decade or so now. Over all that time, there were a lot of opportunities to fix things, but no one wanted to deal with it. Coming out of a 90's economy, I think just "upgrading" to a Moon system seemed perfectly reasonable. I don't think anyone saw the current economy coming back when they made these plans. I'm just kind of hoping something changes, both economically and politically, before the final budget is passed.

  5. Well, free market people should be happy that Obama is in some sense privatizing human space exploration.

    Who would have thought the man many republicans like to accuse of being socialist would be the one to hand human space flight over to the private sector. :)


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