The Obama Administration cites tough economic times as a reason it is proposing cancelling a NASA mission to return to the moon.
- The Obama Administration is proposing canceling a program to return to the moon.
- The decision means NASA would be constrained to missions to low-Earth orbit.
- NASA is estimated to have already spent a little over nine billion dollars on the program.
President Barack Obama will Monday formally propose abandoning plans to return U.S. astronauts to the moon, by ending the costly Constellation next-generation rocket program.
Arguing it must trim spending in tough times, the administration will instead direct NASA to turn to long-range research and development which could eventually lead to a manned space program to Mars, a senior U.S. official said.
"We are canceling the program, not delaying it," Obama's budget chief Peter Orszag told reporters.
The decision will mean that NASA will be constrained to low-Earth orbits for years to come, and will transform the aspirations of the U.S. space program following the planned retirement of the space shuttle fleet in September.
Under the new plan, Obama will also propose boosting the development of commercial rockets and other vehicles that can ferry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), an outside US government adviser said.
The Constellation program was launched in 2004 by then-president George W. Bush after the Columbia space shuttle mission ended in disaster with the death of all seven crew members in 2003.
NASA has faced growing pressure to cut its budget as the U.S. government's debt soars and the United States buckles under the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The agency has also seen dwindling political support, with its White House and congressional paymasters reluctant to fund the type of expensive manned space exploration that saw the agency put 12 men on the moon.
NASA is estimated to have already spent a little over nine billion dollars on Constellation, including 3.5 billion on the component Ares 1 program and 3.7 billion on the Orion program.component The Obama administration plans to hike NASA's budget by 5.9 billion dollars over five years to boost commercial development, with the goal of a first commercial flight to the ISS launching by 2015, the adviser said.
In the meantime, NASA will rely on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to ferry U.S. astronauts to the orbiting space station after the shuttle program is retired.
Only five more shuttle flights, including an Endeavour mission scheduled for a Feb. 7 launch, are planned.
The White House wants NASA to take on the lead innovator role it played during the 1960s with the Apollo program that put men on the moon, to help now develop a dynamic new commercial space sector.
Getting the cancellation through Congress will be a tough mission for the administration, as lawmakers from Florida and other states with close ties to the space program are likely to oppose moves that could threaten local jobs.