Obama expected to scrap moon plans

The dream is over: Barak Obama’s NASA budget proposal, due Monday, looks unlikely to make any provision for returning men to the moon.

The Constellation program to put men on the moon by 2020 looks to be lost in space. President Obama is expected to increase NASA’s budget by well under $1 billion for the year – a third of the amount experts say is required for a decent human spaceflight program.

“We certainly don’t need to go back to the moon,” one administration official told the Los Angeles Times.

Back in October, the Augustine Commission gave the White House a series of options. It had been hoped that the president would plump for the ‘flexible option’ – which would have allowed for short visits to the moon, the asteroids and Mars.

But the rumoured budget increase would not allow for this.

Instead, the White House is expected to ask NASA to concentrate on projects closer to home, such as climate change research.

There are also believed to be plans for a so-called ‘heavy lift’ rocket for deep space missions – although that could take a decade or more to materialise. NASA has apparently been talking to contractors including Boeing and Lockheed Martin about this.

There’s likely to be a greater involvement from commercial companies, for instance in  providing access to low earth orbit – a very different strategy from that NASA has pursued in the past.

The Wall Street Journal reckons that around $200 million will be set aside for this initiative, although it would likely cost as much as $3.5 billion over the next five years.

If Constellation is to be scrapped, there’ll be opposition. For a start, any such move will require approval from Congress, where some members are already squaring up for a fight.