Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Augustine Commission: to Mars, eventually

The summary of the Augustine Commission report is in, and the panelists thought NASA's plan for a near-term return to the Moon was (depressingly, but not surprisingly) unaffordable on politically realistic budgets. The Commission suggested NASA let private industry increasingly take over the Earth-to-orbit portion of the space business while the agency develops cutting-edge technology and pursues a "flexible" strategy for human spaceflight. The eventual goal for humans would be Mars, but the steps and timelines would develop gradually, as technology allowed. The Commission felt NASA's Ares I booster program was unlikely to provide enough value in this private/public mix to be worth continuing.
COMMENT: It will be very interesting to see how the Obama administration and new NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will factor this report into the real world - directives and budgets. Personal opinion: I'd expect the Administration to interpret "flexible" as "keep the budgets flat." That doesn't mean no good will come of this. The cancellation of Ares and the increased contracting out may - may - mean more money for science missions (an Administration priority), a broader space technology base, and the kind of technological advances needed for missions to Near Earth Asteroids, Mars, and other destinations. Like I said, it'll be interesting.

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