With NASA in a state of flux as the Obama administration studies the space agency's future goals, a congressional subcommittee has slashed NASA's 2010 budget for manned space flight by 16 percent. The proposed bill provides an overall increase of $421 million for NASA but slashes the manned space flight budget by $670 million.
The White House announced May 5 an outside review of NASA's program to return to the moon. The 90-day inquiry will re-examine NASA's replacement plans for the space shuttle fleet, currently scheduled for retirement late in 2010, and whether it might be better to bypass the moon in favor of missions farther out into the solar system.
"Reductions from the budget request should not be viewed as a diminution of my support or that of the Subcommittee in NASA's human space flight activities," Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee, said in a statement. "Rather, the deferral is taken without prejudice; it is a pause, a time-out, to allow the President to establish his vision for human space exploration and to commit to realistic future funding levels to realize this vision."
NASA has already spent almost $6.9 billion on the plan to be back on the moon by 2020 to establish a lunar outpost for future space expeditions, and the agency continues to spend $300 million per month on the program. Former President George W. Bush introduced the moon program in the wake of the 2003 space shuttle Columbia accident.
Even before Obama ordered the NASA review, acting NASA Administrator Christopher Scolese told Congress during budget hearings the agency may be wavering over the 2020 moon project.
"We're still looking at options for what do we mean by the moon. Do we mean a colony on the moon? That's clearly very expensive," Scolese told a House Appropriations subcommittee. "It will probably be less than an outpost on the moon, but where it fits between sorties-single trips to the moon, to various parts-and an outpost is really going to be dependent on the studies that we're going to be doing."
According to reports, the studies call for largely bypassing the moon for deeper space travel.
Obama's NASA budget also shuts down the space shuttle program in late 2010, but fully funds the eight remaining flights to completely build out the International Space Station. Budget documents released May 7 even allow for a ninth mission to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the space station if the first eight can be "safely and affordably completed in calendar year 2010."