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White House says no decision yet on NASA's future

Posted: December 18, 2009

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White House officials say President Obama has not yet made a decision on the fate of NASA's moon program, two days after an Oval Office meeting with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

A collage of the Constellation program's Ares rocket family. Credit: NASA
Obama and Bolden met Wednesday afternoon to discuss the space agency's work and the results of the Augustine commission, a panel of experts that submitted options in October for the future of the human space program.

A report by the online edition of Science magazine late Thursday said Obama plans to request a $1 billion increase in the NASA budget for 2011. The money would fund a new heavy-lift launch vehicle, and the agency's current Ares 1 rocket design would be scrapped in favor of commercial crew transportation services to Earth orbit, according to the Science report.

The Ares 5 rocket is currently NASA's design for a heavy-lift launcher. Engineers are also studying other designs more closely based on the space shuttle.

NASA and White House officials claim such reports are mere speculation, but they are providing no information on when a decision could be announced. The administration will file its fiscal year 2011 budget request in February.

"The meeting with Bolden was informational, not decisional," said Nick Shapiro, White House spokesman.

The Augustine panel submitted eight options in its final report in October. Most of the options included discarding the Ares 1 rocket and relying on the private sector for manned launches to the International Space Station in Earth orbit.

The committee's report found NASA's Constellation moon program was threatened by low funding and unattainable schedules. A robust exploration program would require up to $3 billion in new funding, according to board members.

A destination for human space exploration is also under question. The Constellation program is focused on lunar exploration, but other options could take astronauts to Mars or nearby asteroids.

Obama and Bolden discussed the committee's work during their meeting Wednesday.

"The President confirmed his commitment to human space exploration, and the goal of ensuring that the nation is on a sustainable path to achieving our aspirations in space," Shapiro said. "Against a backdrop of serious challenges with the existing program, the Augustine Committee has offered several key findings and a range of options for how the nation might improve its future human space flight activities. The two spoke about the Administrator's work at NASA and they also discussed the Augustine Committee's analysis."