This article is from the In-Depth Report The End of the Space Shuttle Program

Obama's budget toes the Bush line on manned space missions: Shuttles out, moon mission a go

Pres. Obama's budget proposal for fiscal year 2010 throws White House support behind two of the more controversial NASA plans of the Bush era: retiring the space shuttle in 2010 and returning humans to the moon by 2020.

The shuttle's scheduled phaseout, part of Pres. Bush's 2004 Vision for Space Exploration, is opposed by thousands of people who work at Cape Canaveral or in jobs tied to the shuttle missions as well as lawmakers such as Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who don't want the U.S. to rely on Russia for transport to and from the International Space Station. As currently planned, the U.S. will not ready a replacement manned transport system before 2015.

But many in the space community, including the nonprofit Planetary Society, have encouraged NASA to hold fast to the 2010 retirement, citing the orbiter's spotty safety record, outmoded technology and limited reach—shuttle flights can only reach low Earth orbit, leaving the moon, let alone Mars, well out of reach. (The Obama budget leaves the door open for an additional shuttle flight beyond the nine currently scheduled, "if it can safely and affordably be flown by the end of 2010.")

The Planetary Society, however, is against a firm timetable for returning Americans to the moon. In its November roadmap for space exploration, the nonprofit argued that concentrating efforts on a goal that NASA reached decades ago should be reconsidered. The 2020 deadline, the report said, "has driven a series of programmatic decisions that may instead lead to multi-decade delays in the expansion of human activity beyond the Earth-Moon system." A recent report, co-authored by Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, similarly argued that the moon is a shortsighted target.

The president's budget request (a pdf of the NASA portion is available here), along with a boost in funding from the economic stimulus package, would provide roughly $19.7 billion for the space agency, an overall increase of $2.4 billion compared to 2008 levels.

Space shuttle patch courtesy of NASA

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