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Report: Obama Decides on $1 Billion NASA Budget Boost and New Heavy-Lift Launcher? December 20, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Ares I, Augustine Panel, Base Race, Constellation, NASA, Norm Augustine, Obama, U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee , add a comment

A report by the blog ScienceInsider quotes sources as saying that Obama last week decided, in a meeting with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, on his immediate direction for NASA: an additional $1 Billion in budget, a new heavy lift launcher to replace the Ares 1, and potentially a shift in mission destinations away from the Moon (!).

The Augustine Report (PDF) recommended as an option a manned flight to an asteroid instead of the Moon—as soon as the early 2020s–an option that, according to this new ScienceInsider report, has the White House “more intrigued” than a return to the Moon (which, with a scrapping of the Ares 1 rocket, would be delayed until at least the mid 2020s…much later than the potential manned asteroid landing, or even a landing on a moon of Mars).

With the Moon well within the sights of private space and numerous other nations, it would be perhaps redundant for NASA to have it’s own full-fledged lunar program. NASA skipping the moon, then, is not a death knell to moon colonization, and could be a shrewd choice with many major private space firms (SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, etc.) being American anyways.

Check out the ScienceInsider blog’s report for the full details. An announcement reportedly could come as soon as this week and as late as February, so stay tuned…

The NASA Administrator Nomination Delay: Ares I Rocket's Future in the Political Balance? February 19, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Ares I, Ares V, NASA, Obama , comments closed

The Houston Chronicle has an article up about how a political battle over the future of the Ares I rocket (and whether to replace it with the currently operational Atlas V and Delta IV rockets) is delaying President Obama’s nomination of a new NASA administrator to succeed Mike Griffin.

It appears there’s a pretty grand tug-of-war going on, as various elements see the change in NASA administratorship as an opportunity to change the agenda in their favor. Everyone from the United Launch Alliance to Sen. Bill Nelson has been getting into the thick of things, complicating things for Obama.

“Selection of a new administrator has taken longer than some expected, [John] Logsdon said, because “the White House knows how tricky it will be to get an independent and trustworthy judgment from a new administration given the vested interests on all sides of this issue.” – “Search for NASA Chief comes under political influence“, Stewart M. Powell, Houston Chronicle

A variety of administrator candidates (including retired generals Scott Gration and more recently, Lester L. Lyles) have been floated lately, with President Obama himself stating that the list of names was down to four.

NASA has  sunk $13.6 billion into the Ares rocket development so far–seems like it might be a shame that abandon that much development.

One angle with the Ares program that I have a somewhat strong opinion on is actually the name–while Ares makes sense in relation to Mars, Ares mythologically is the god of bloodshed. So, our rocket carrying living human colonists, to planetary bodies with other nations colonizing, is going to named after the avatar of bloodshed? To me, that’s similar to the Mayflower having been instead called, say…the Black Death:P Something of an ill omen, in my opinion, especially with all the other names they could have chosen. Might as well call the lunar base ‘Roanoke’ or ‘The Alamo’.

Regardless, I personally expect that despite all the manuevering around the Ares rockets’ future, their development will continue–the negative PR might just be too counter to Obama’s goals of inspiration and progress, and could handicap positive public interest in American space programs.

New Orion Craft Test: Abort Motor November 21, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Ares I, Ares V, Constellation, NASA, Orion (craft), Youtube , add a comment

You know a test went well when it shot flames 100 feet into the air.

Especially when there was video of it:

That is the second (the first being back in April) test of the Orion craft‘s abort motor; the Orion being the successor to the Space Shuttle, and the craft that will get NASA astronauts back to the Moon (with the Altair serving as the lander).

Despite the spectacularly dangerous-looking results, the abort motor is actually a safety feature: it would direct the Orion craft away from the Ares rockets in the event of a launch malfunction.

NASA abandons accelerated Orion 2013 plan (News) August 12, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Altair, Ares I, Ares V, Constellation, Current News, NASA, Orion (craft), Space Shuttle , add a comment
Yesterday, it was announced that NASA was abandoning its idea for an ambitious, accelerated launch of its next-gen Orion spacecraft, pushing back the date a year. While the announced launch date is March of 2015, they were hoping to get the craft up and launched as soon as 2013; now they are looking an an internal date of 2014 (with the ‘announced’ launch date still sitting pretty on 2015).

The Orion craft seats 4-6 astronauts (with the current Space Shuttle typically carrying 7), and is the craft planned to carry NASA’s astronauts to the Moon (with Orion being launched by the Ares rockets, subsequent to a seperate launch of the lunar lander, Altair; both craft have been spotlighted here recently). Meanwhile, other nations have their own equivalents brewing

Russian/European Joint, Manned Spacecraft Design Unveiled (News) July 24, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Ares I, Ares V, cooperation, Current News, European Space Agency, Orion (craft), RKK Energia, Roscosmos , add a comment

The replacement for the oft-used Russian Soyuz craft was unveiled today, and it is a joint project by the European Space Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency(Roscosmos):

Designed by Russian space firm RKK Energia, this is a craft planned to be used for lunar missions, effectively being the counterpart to NASA’s Ares/Orion lunar-mission tag team (which I profiled briefly here at Luna C/I back in May). In NASA’s case, the Ares is the launch module and the Orion the manned portion; this new craft is a manned craft, with the launch vehicle undetermined and (as noted in the linked BBC news article) possibly being either an entirely new vehicle or a modified existing Russian rocket.

The Russian-European plans to collaborate are not a set-in-stone agreement, and so the ESA does have a backup plan to continue should the partnership with Roscosmos fall through. Still, it’s promising to see signs of this sort of high-level collaboration working, as opposed to, say, tense and outright competition that could lead to cynical (perhaps silly?) ‘war in space’ scenarios. In my view, if there’s a time for humanity to start moving on from the more petty social-geopolitical problems of Earth, this is it. Do we really need to go start churning out terms like “lunapolitical conflict”?

But, for the time being, we have developments like this tentative Euro-Russian agreement (and other cooperation efforts) to nudge things towards what I see, at least for now, as a positive direction.

Picture of the Week: What's in a Name? May 24, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Ares I, Ares V, Mythology, Orion (craft), Space Shuttle , add a comment

That is the vessel with which NASA’s Constellation astronauts will launching efforts towards the Moon, and eventually, Mars. The Ares rocket, with Ares I carrying the crew and Ares V carrying the cargo, is the first replacement for the Space Shuttle (which launched both cargo and crew at once). The Ares is the launch vehicle, with the spacecraft per se being the Orion.

Ares, the god, interestingly is (as Wikipedia puts it): “…more accurately the god of savage warfare, or bloodlust, or slaughter personified”. Lovely. I perhaps might have chosen a, ah…more diplomatic name for the vehicle launching our space efforts, though the choice technically comes from Ares’ Roman alter ego/incarnation: Mars, the warrior god, a form in which he was more honored in society (second only to Jupiter, in fact). Fun fact: the month of March is named after Mars.

Hopefully our efforts on the Moon and Mars have a lot more truth and introspection than bloodlust and slaughter personifed (“That’s no moon…”).