Obama to defend new NASA mission at April summit

After some in Congress hit plan to scrap NASA moon mission, Obama moves to explain

In an effort to curb rising resistance in Congress to a new NASA strategy, President Barack Obama will hold a summit next month to explain his vision for America's future in space.

The summit will be held on April 15 at an as-yet undisclosed location in Florida, where Obama and NASA officials are expected to discuss the administration's fiscal 2011 budget proposal and how it could change the space agency's efforts and goals.

Sunday's announcement of the upcoming summit came after some members of Congress had voiced strong opposition to the federal budget proposal, which would end NASA's plan to return humans to the moon by 2020.

The budget proposal also calls for NASA to give up on building its own next-generation spacecraft and instead contract with commercial companies to build space taxis.

In response, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) last Wednesday introduced a bill that would undo NASA's plans to retire its aging space shuttle fleet later this year.

Hutchison's bill also would require that NASA continue on with its Constellation moon program, which calls for building rockets and spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and further into space.

"We must close the gap in U.S. human space flight or face the reality that we will be totally dependent on Russia for access to space until the next generation of space vehicle is developed," said Hutchison, in a statement last week. She called Obama's plan "short-sighted."

The Obama administration noted that an independent review panel found that NASA's earlier plan to return astronauts to the moon was "fundamentally unexecutable."

In its announcement of the Florida summit meeting, the White House also pointed out that the latest budget plan calls for providing NASA with $6 billion more in fnding over the next five years than it had over the past five years.

Nonetheless, the new plan didn't fly with some members of Congress, especially since cancelling the Constellation moon program would lead to job losses in both Florida and Texas.

The administration's budget plan aims to turn the agency's attention from building new rockets and spacecraft to developing new engines, in-space fuel depots and robots that can venture into space.

Since the Obama budget proposal was first released last month, NASA administrator Charles Bolden has repeatedly said that the Constellation program is behind schedule, and is projected to ultimately be over budget. Bolden said he feared that NASA's Constellation program would sap funding and attention from developing new technologies.

Sticking with the previous plan would also drain funds from the space station program, and would force NASA to withdraw its support from the international effort as early as 2015, he added.

The Obama administration's new plan calls for NASA to work with commercial aeronautics companies to design and build so-called space taxis that could take astronauts to the space station and eventually into outer space.

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
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