Funding America’s next human space flight programme

Space Launch SystemAn analysis in the March issue of Spaceflight (page 95) tackles the growing debate about how to fund America’s next human space flight programme. After we went to press, Republican presidential candidates competing for votes in the Florida primaries 31 January, saw space topics naturally rising to the top of the agenda in that State. But wild and unrealistic proposals from lead contenders Newt Gingrich and Mit Romney were designed more to appeal to Space Coast employees who have lost their jobs in the recent Shuttle shutdown than to diehard analysts and policy makers. Both Republican candidates pledged commitment to advancing the space frontier but the way they said they would do that is not so very different from the policy of the Obama administration: more money for private and non-government organizations to push forward with a new generation of spacecraft capable of taking astronauts beyond Earth orbit. Gingrich wants to take 10% of the NASA budget and give it to these entrepreneurs with a ‘first on the Moon’ prize as the incentive. Romney is doubtful about going back to the Moon at all.

Meanwhile, with the debate hotting up, many senior NASA managers are deeply worried over the enormous cost of the Space Launch System (a Saturn V class vehicle) designed to send the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) on missions beyond Earth orbit. In the March issue of Spaceflight (pages 102-103) the changing structure of planning for the future looks at failed attempts over the past four decades as one grand design after another was unable to gain the resources necessary to make them happen. In the over-heated Florida debate on space policy, opinion was divided over how to prepare for the next step in human space flight. During late January several high-level former NASA centre directors, managers and administrators came out opposing the SLS/MPCV route, with its $3 billion/year price tag and no manned flight for the next 10 years. All proclaimed their concern that it would simply not stand the test of time and that the inevitable budget cuts would make the giant rocket an easy target for cancellation, especially as it has yet to get a defined mission!

Next up, the announcement of the 2013 NASA budget on 7 February on which we will bring you a summary shortly after. That one, covering the year starting 1 October 2012, will decide a lot of things. But real damage may be caused by severe cuts to the Mars programme, one area few are bracing themselves for.

The Editor (Spaceflight)

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