The lede of today’s Orlando Sentinel article is blunt: “NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the moon are dead.” So, it claims, are the Ares 1 and 5 rockets, which will not be funded in the FY2011 budget proposal to be released on Monday. “There will be no lunar landers, no moon bases, no Constellation program at all,” the article continues. The article, citing a collection of (unnamed, of course) White House, Congress, NASA, and industry officials, claims that the budget will include the eventual development of a heavy-lift vehicle, but focus more in the near term on Earth science projects and R&D work to enable future human missions beyond LEO, as well as supporting development of commercial crew transportation systems to get crews to and from the ISS.
None of this is terribly surprising, given the rumors and hints that have leaked out in recent weeks and months, although the presentation here is particularly stark. It would, though, face some strong opposition from Congress, which included in the final FY2010 appropriations a provision preventing “termination or elimination” of any aspect of Constellation or creation of any new related program without approval from Congress in a subsequent appropriation. It’s not clear if the White House will seek a supplemental appropriation for FY10 to make that change now, or wait until the final FY11 bill is approved (which might be well into the 2011 fiscal year, based on past experience on the time Congress takes to finalize such bills) to make such changes, which means current Constellation development funded in the FY10 budget might be for nought.
Several members of Texas’ Congressional delegation, Republican and Democrat, tell the Houston Chronicle they may might any substantial changes in NASA’s exploration plans. “His own commission recommended a $3 billion increase to have a sustainable program,” Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) said, referring to the Augustine committee. “His own commission recommended a $3 billion increase to have a sustainable program.” And Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX): “We’re going to be very vocal about any undermining of the commitment to NASA that is different.” Will they—or, more importantly, will appropriators—back up those words with action, and funding?