The Augustine Commission has informed the American Government of an important revelation about the Manned Exploration Program; we are rapidly falling behind-schedule on the road to the Moon thanks to chronic underfunding.
This fact is hardly the most important result of the Augustine Commission. In fact, in the space community, this is no more than a statement of the obvious. The Constellation Program has suffered severe setbacks due to budget limitations. The only major hardware test on America's new booster to date has been Ares I-X, and that test only came after many, many months of delay. No hardware tests have been performed on Ares V, the cargo-carrying backbone of the Vision for Space Exploration. NASA has not even proposed a final design for the Altair Lunar Lander. Only the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle seems to be relatively on-track, but with the Ares I booster lagging behind schedule it will have nothing to ride on.
The Augustine Commission has informed the President and Congress that without additional funds, NASA will have to deorbit the International Space Station in 2016, to the dismay of the Europeans, Russians and Japanese. Ares I will not even be ready by that time, so its ability to take Orion to LEO will be utterly useless. Ares V will not be ready for years afterward, and no mission to the Moon will be attempted before 2028.
I will not try to lay blame on any individual. The importance of space exploration has been overlooked by Congress ever since the last three Apollo missions were canceled, and few Presidents have been willing to do anything more than vaguely guide the space program. It is a pleasing irony that this commission was intended to find a way to run the space program effectively on its current budget, yet it quickly decided that it could not be done. Augustine may have led the Constitutional Convention of space exploration, rejecting the old budget and plans in favor of creating a more perfect Vision for Space Exploration.
The Augustine Commission's first recommendation is that NASA's budget be increased by $3 billion over the next few years, with inflationary increases occurring after 2020. The commission has further decided that Ares I is an unnecessary aspect of the Constellation Program that should be replaced with less-expensive alternatives, such as outsourcing Space Station crew and resupply missions to the private sector and launching Orion missions on existing rockets. Furthermore, the Commission suggests that the primary focus of Project Constellation should be developing the Ares V. After the development of this heavy-lift launcher there are many more roads available to NASA. One leads to the Moon and one leads to Mars, but their favored proposal, the "Flexible Path," deserves special mention, and will be the subject of this blog's follow-up.
The Augustine Commission has given America it's best chance since the 1960's at an adequately-funded space program. This moment may be the turning-point in American space exploration, the end of the Dark Age of short hops into Low Earth Orbit leading to a Silver Age of deep-space exploration.
Fun space infographics - Non-planets and Spacecraft - Every now and then I come across some nice infographics. Here is a nice one showing the moon and other "non-planets" of the solar system. Even though a fe...
6 months ago