NASA received both strong support and a new direction from the Obama Administration in the fiscal year 2011 budget proposal. The new funding – an increase of six billion dollars over five years – stands out in the face of a widespread government budget freeze. Among other noteworthy proposals is the major shift to commercially developed rockets for human space flight.
While many details are still to emerge, The Planetary Society welcomes the overall budget increase and other proposals by the Obama Administration for NASA, and urges Congress to use the Administration’s proposal to finally advance human exploration beyond Earth orbit and beyond the Moon.
The Administration proposes to cancel the Constellation program in favor of the commercial industry’s providing new rockets and NASA providing new technology for exploration beyond Earth orbit. The new plan appears consistent with the “flexible path” defined by the Committee to Review U.S. Human Space Flight Plans, headed by Norm Augustine.
“The new plan should enable human space exploration to move ahead more realistically and even more quickly than previous plans,” said Louis Friedman, the Society’s Executive Director. “A continuing series of new achievements along a flexible path into the solar system would be more inspiring than going back to the Moon, and more affordable as it proceeds step-by-step into deep space,” he added.
Other highlights of the budget proposal which the Society supports include:
Substantial new funding for competitively-selected commercial launch vehicles to provide U.S. access to the International Space Station
Extending International Space Station operations to at least 2020
Initiating several new technology development programs to permit human exploration beyond Earth orbit and into the solar system, including $3.1 billion over five years for heavy lift launch vehicle technology
Establishment of a new program of robotic missions to a variety of solar system destinations, to serve as precursors to eventual human exploration
Continued strong support for robotic space science missions, including full funding of Mars exploration and the James Webb Space Telescope, as well as early formulation funding for a mission to explore Europa
Strong support for Earth Observations, including the re-flight of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory and the acceleration of efforts to monitor and understand global climate change
Greater engagement with other space-faring nations to enable more ambitious human and robotic exploration
Society President and planetary scientist Jim Bell stated, “The President’s proposal represents a major paradigm shift in NASA's human exploration program while maintaining solid support for continuing robotic missions and space science research. Particularly compelling is the plan's commitment to fast-track a significant new set of robotic precursor missions as well as the heavy-lift capability needed for deep space exploration. The scientific, technological, educational, and economic benefits of such a complementary and publicly-engaging human and robotic space program could be profound.”
Society Vice President Bill Nye, the Science Guy® remarked, "Under the President's plan, NASA will engage a whole new generation of explorers and scientists. We'll develop the technology to explore Deep Space, reaching new milestones in space and accomplishing new things here on Earth."
“To form that Roadmap, we polled our membership and sought opinions from many scientists, engineers, managers, and politicians. Many of the recommendations that we made were similar to those of the Augustine Committee's ‘flexible path,’ ” Bell noted.
Recommendations included an international program of sending astronauts step-by-step beyond the Moon and out into the solar system, establishing new distance and flight duration records on the long road toward Mars. Included in these steps would be missions to near-Earth asteroids, important exploration objectives in their own right.
The Society, through its leadership and membership, will strongly urge Congress to adopt such a roadmap as they consider the Administration’s budget request this year. Emphasis on the integration of science and exploration, and on international cooperation among space-faring nations for ambitious missions, will continue as the Society focuses on public interest, inspiration, and engagement for the future.