NASA Panel Submits Its Big Plan For Future of Human Space Flight
At last, the rumors can stop flying. Unfortunately, they're not alone in that
After months of research, public hearings, and debate, the NASA Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, also known as the Augustine Committee, has finally submitted its recommendations to the White House.
Despite wide-ranging rumors that the panel would recommend scraping the Constellation Program or landing on an asteroid, the summary report posted on the Committee website today lays out eight pragmatic, budget-minded options. The recommendations, binned out into three groups based on funding availability, cover a wide range of options.
The first two plans represent a modest future for space flight, and note that without serious budget increases, NASA isn’t going back to the Moon before the 2030s, if at all. And forget Mars.
The second bunch of options, which the Committee estimates would cost an additional $3 billion a year (plus yearly increases at the rate of inflation), aim for a lunar landing by the mid-2020s.
The third group of plans, for which they don’t give a cost, involves exploration of the Moon and Lagrange Points by the early 2020s, with a possible human exploration of a Martian moon by the late 2020s.
All but two of the plans call for commercial space companies to replace the Ares I rocket for low-Earth-orbit missions, and identify the Ares V as the corner stone of the NASA’s future.
The summary report makes some other interesting points as well. The report says, “the Committee finds that no plan compatible with the FY 2010 budget profile permits human exploration to continue in any meaningful way,” and also finds that NASA cannot avoid a seven-year gap during which the U.S. will launch no people into space, while NASA switches over from the shuttle to the Ares V.
Most importantly, the report essentially kills the “Mars first” plan, saying, “Mars is the ultimate destination for human exploration; but it is not the best first destination.”
All of this is complicated by a white paper leaked to the press on Friday. As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, this internal NASA policy paper contradicts some of the report’s findings, and advocates a comprehensive, 30-year program to land humans on Mars.
Basically, the take-home message of the report is the same line NASA’s been saying since Mercury: No bucks, no Buck Rogers.