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Obama cancels Moon return project
02-01-2010, 07:15 PM,
Obama cancels Moon return project
Quote:US President Barack Obama has cancelled the American project designed to take humans back to the Moon.

The Constellation programme envisaged new rockets and a new crewship called Orion to put astronauts on the lunar surface by 2020.

But in his federal budget request issued on Monday, Mr Obama said the project was "over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation".

It was draining resources from other US space agency activities, he added.

He plans instead to turn to the private sector for launch services.

The decision was immediately condemned by Congressional figures who represent workforces dependent on Constellation.

Direction change

The Moon programme was initiated by President George Bush in the wake of the 2003 shuttle accident, which saw seven astronauts lose their lives when their vehicle broke up on re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere.

The idea was to retire the spaceplane and replace it with a new ship and new rockets capable of sending humans beyond low-Earth orbit.

But critics claimed the programme was never properly funded, and when it ran into technical difficulties its time schedule also began to slip.

Mr Obama is cancelling Constellation even though Nasa has spent some $9bn on the project already.

The president's budget request plans an investment of an additional $6bn in Nasa over the next five years - an overall $100bn commitment to the agency (its budget for 2011 would be $19bn).

He wants some of the extra funding to be used to incentivise private companies, to help them bring forward a new generation of launch systems to carry humans to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

As well as being a customer for these rockets and capsules, Nasa would also set and oversee standards in the nascent market, especially in matters that concerned crew safety.

The budget statement says: "A strengthened US commercial space launch industry will bring needed competition, act as a catalyst for the development of other new businesses capitalising on affordable access to space, help create thousands of new jobs, and help reduce the cost of human access to space."

The plan does not rule out the prospect of humans ever venturing beyond low-Earth orbit again. The budget request calls on Nasa to implement a research and development programme to support future heavy-lift rocket systems that could potentially take humans "farther and faster into space".

In addition, Monday's funding boost will enable America to extend the operation of the ISS from 2015 to at least 2020.

Congressional opposition

The changes fit broadly with ideas put forward by a special panel convened last year by Mr Obama to review US human spaceflight options.

The Augustine committee argued strongly in favour of giving the commercial sector a greater role in the nation's space programme. The panel members thought such an approach could reduce costs and even speed up the adoption of new technologies.

Mr Obama is expected to have a battle to get his changes to Nasa's mission pushed through Congress.

Politicians from Alabama, Florida and Texas - the states that have most involvement in Constellation - have vowed to fight the cancellation.

"Congress cannot and will not sit back and watch the reckless abandonment of sound principles, a proven track record, a steady path to success, and the destruction of our human spaceflight programme," said Richard Shelby, a Republican senator from Alabama.
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