President Obama today scrapped NASA’s mission to return men to the Moon. He cancelled the Constellation programme set up by his predecessor George W Bush, including the Ares 1 and V rockets, Orion crew capsule and Altair lunar lander.
Instead, Obama ordered the space agency to develop new technologies and work with other nations on projects that will see humans exploring the inner solar system including Mars and asteroids.
NASA will also invest in private industry to develop and build replacements for the space shuttle which is being retired this year. The new rockets will deliver astronauts and supplies to the international space station whose life will be extended to 2020 or beyond.
NASA has spent $9 billion so far on Constellation. But Administrator Charlie Bolden said the project was over-budget and so behind schedule that it would have been unlikely to get to the Moon until the 2030s.
Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration had aimed to land humans on the Moon by 2020 – more than 50 years after the first visit by Apollo 11. Mr Bolden, a former astronaut who was appointed by Obama last year, said: “As we focused so much of our effort and funding on just getting to the Moon, we were neglecting investments in the key technologies that would be required to go beyond.”
He added: “While there will no doubt be challenges as a result of cancelling Constellation, the funding for NASA is increasing, so we expect to support as many if not more jobs.”
Mr Bolden said that developing new private-enterprise craft to fly to the space station, as many as 5,000 new jobs could be created. NASA’s budget would actually increase by $6 billion over the next five years. There will be more emphasis on missions to study the Earth from space. And robotic missions would help pave the way for later human exploration of the Moon, Mars and nearby asteroids.
Last night, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, said he “strongly endorsed” the President’s new direction for NASA.
He said: “As an Apollo astronaut, I know the importance of always pushing new frontiers as we explore space. The truth is, that we have already been to the Moon – some 40 years ago.
“A near-term focus on lowering the cost of access to space and on developing key, cutting-edge technologies to take us further, faster, is just what our nation needs to maintain its position as the leader in space exploration for the rest of this century.
“We need to be in this for the long haul, and this program will allow us to again be pushing the boundaries to achieve new and challenging things beyond Earth.
“I hope NASA will embrace this new direction as much as I do, and help us all continue to use space exploration to drive prosperity and innovation right here on Earth. I also believe the steps we will be taking following the President’s direction will best position NASA and other space agencies to send humans to Mars and other exciting destinations as quickly as possible.
“To do that, we will need to support many types of game-changing technologies NASA and its partners will be developing. Mars is the next frontier for humankind, and NASA will be leading the way there if we aggressively support the President’s plans.
“Finally, I am excited to think that the development of commercial capabilities to send humans into low earth orbit will likely result in so many more earthlings being able to experience the transformative power of spaceflight.
“I can personally attest to the fact that the experience results in a different perspective on life on Earth, and on our future as a species. I applaud the President for working to make this dream a reality.”
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