OMB released the high-level FY2011 budget proposal documents this morning, including a summary of the NASA proposal. Some highlights include the following assessment of Constellation:
NASA’s Constellation program—based largely on existing technologies—was begun to realize a vision of returning astronauts back to the Moon by 2020. However, the program was over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation due to a failure to invest in critical new technologies. Using a broad range of criteria, an independent review panel determined that even if fully funded, NASA’s program to repeat many of the achievements of the Apollo era, 50 years later, was the least attractive approach to space exploration as compared to potential alternatives. Furthermore, NASA’s attempts to pursue its Moon goals had drawn funding away from other NASA programs, including robotic space exploration, science, and Earth observations. The President’s Budget cancels Constellation and replaces it with a bold new approach that invests in the building blocks of a more capable approach to space exploration.
That building block approach includes heavy-lift launch vehicle R&D, “vigorous” technology development work in areas like automated rendezvous and docking and propellant transfer, and a “steady stream of precursor robotic exploration missions”.
The budget also includes, as expected, an ISS extension and support for commercial crew transport to and from the station. From the document:
Commercial launch vehicles have for years carried all U.S. military and commercial—and most NASA—satellites to orbit. The Budget funds NASA to contract with industry to provide astronaut transportation to the International Space Station as soon as possible, reducing the risk of relying solely on foreign crew transports for years to come. A strengthened U.S. commercial space launch industry will bring needed competition, act as a catalyst for the development of other new businesses capitalizing on affordable access to space, help create thousands of new jobs, and help reduce the cost of human access to space.
There’s also support for enhanced Earth science missions, “green” aviation technology, and infrastructure upgrades at the Kennedy Space Center.
More details will come later today when NASA releases its detailed budget documents, along with the telecon with Administrator Bolden.