FRAMINGHAM, 22 OCTOBER 2009 - When it comes down to it, NASA is the most accomplished space organization in the world but its human spaceflight activities are at a tipping point, primarily due to a mismatch of goals and money.
That was the conclusion of the Augustine Review of United States Human Space Flight Plan Committee report delivered to the White House today. The report's 157-pages worth of findings will now be debated and in the end, dictate the future of NASA and space flight operations.
According to the report, NASA's fundamental conundrum is that within the current structure of the budget, NASA essentially has the resources either to build a major new system or to operate one, but not to do both. This is the root cause of the gap in capability of launching crew to low-Earth orbit under the current budget and will likely be the source of other gaps in the future. Either additional funds need to be made available or a far more modest program involving little or no exploration needs to be adopted, the repot stated.
The commission seems to say space exploration is a worth-while endeavor but the way it is accomplished and the way NASA approaches it need to be radically changed.
So what are some of those changes? From the Augustine report, some of the most important include:
• International partnerships: The US can lead a bold new international effort in the human exploration of space. If international partners are actively engaged, including on the critical path to success, there could be substantial benefits to foreign relations and more overall resources could become available to the human spaceflight program.
• Short-term Space Shuttle planning: The remaining Shuttle manifest should be flown in a safe and prudent manner without undue schedule pressure. This manifest will likely extend operation into the second quarter of FY 2011.
• The human-spaceflight gap: Under current conditions, the gap in US ability to launch astronauts into space will stretch to at least seven years. The Committee did not identify any credible approach employing new capabilities that could shorten the gap to less than six years. The only way to significantly close the gap is to extend the life of the Space Shuttle Program.
• Extending the International Space Station: The return on investment to both the United States and our international partners would be significantly enhanced by an extension of the life of the ISS. A decision not to extend its operation would significantly impair US ability to develop and lead future international spaceflight partnerships.
• Heavy lift: A heavy-lift launch capability to low-Earth orbit, combined with the ability to inject heavy payloads away from the Earth, is beneficial to exploration. It will also be useful to the national security space and scientific communities. The Committee reviewed: the Ares family of launchers; Shuttle derived vehicles; and launchers derived from the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle family. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, trading capability, life-cycle costs, maturity, operational complexity and the way of doing business within the program and NASA.
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