NASA gets cold feet on Moon base plan
2009 06 28

By David Shiga | NewScientist.com

NASA will probably not build an outpost on the moon as originally planned, the agency's acting administrator, Chris Scolese, told lawmakers on Wednesday. His comments also hinted that the agency is open to putting more emphasis on human missions to destinations like Mars or a near-Earth asteroid.

NASA has been working towards returning astronauts to the moon by 2020 and building a permanent base there. But some space analysts and advocacy groups like the Planetary Society have urged the agency to cancel plans for a permanent moon base, carry out shorter moon missions instead, and focus on getting astronauts to Mars.

Under Scolese's predecessor, Mike Griffin, the agency held firm to its moon base plans. But the comments by Scolese, who will lead NASA until President Barack Obama nominates the next administrator, suggest a shift in the agency's direction. He spoke to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies of the House Committee on Appropriations.

Scolese was asked repeatedly whether NASA could still make it to the moon by 2020 under the proposed 2010 budget, but failed to give a clear yes or no, and his answers suggested the agency's plans were in flux.


Instead of building a permanent lunar base, NASA may send astronauts on short 'sorties' or excursions (Illustration: NASA)


Short trips

"We were looking at an outpost on the moon, as the basis for that [2020] estimate and that one is being revisited," he said. "It will probably be less than an outpost on the moon, but where it fits between sorties, single trips, to the moon to various parts and an outpost is really going to be dependent on the studies that we're going to be doing."

"Recall [that] the Vision [for Space Exploration] was not just to go to the moon as it was in Apollo, it was to utilise space to go on to Mars and to go to other places," he added. "We've demonstrated over the last several years that with multiple flights we can build a very complex system reliably – the space station – involving multiple nations…and we'll need something like that if we're going to go to Mars."

Scolese's further comments hinted that the agency's plans might shift to include a greater emphasis on destinations beyond the moon. "So what I would like to see from NASA over time is an architecture that…will give us flexibility for taking humans beyond low-Earth orbit and allowing us to have options for what we can do at the moon as well as other destinations…[like] Mars or an asteroid…so that there are options on what we do in 2020," he said.

Vague answers

Scolese's vague answers on whether NASA believed it could meet its 2020 moon deadline, as well as similarly unclear answers from Doug Cooke, NASA's associate administrator for exploration systems, left the subcommittee's chair, congressman Alan Mollohan, wondering whether the agency had been given new directions.

"Does the 2010 budget request impact in any way our target – is this so complicated – our target of getting to the moon by 2020?" he asked. "Is there any consideration being given within the organisation to not attempting to meet the 2020 moon [return]…is there any reconsideration of going there? What is going on here?"

Cooke replied: "The direction that we have is to continue to pursue the 2020 date," but added that the agency was still assessing how the 2010 budget might affect that.

Some clarification about any shift in NASA's goals and priorities could come in early May, when the Obama administration's detailed 2010 budget proposal for NASA is set to be released.



Related Articles
Timetable for Moon colony announced
Why The Moon?
Atlas 5 rocket launches NASA moon mission
NASA uses probes to hunt for ancient planet that may prove Earth moon origins
The Moon - Who put it there?
Nasa 'rejects Russia Moon help
There's Something Strange on the Moon


Latest News from our Front Page

People are merging with machines
2014 10 20
Ian Burkhart concentrated hard. A thick cable protruded from the crown of his shaven head. A sleeve sprouting wires enveloped his right arm. The 23 - year-old had been paralysed from the neck down since a diving accident four years ago. But, in June this year, in a crowded room in the Wexner Medical Centre at Ohio State University, Burkhart’s ...
Illegal Aliens Cleared For U.S. Military Service
2014 10 18
The Pentagon announced a new policy allowing illegal immigrants the opportunity to enlist in the armed forces, Thursday. USA Today reports that the new recruitment policies will focus on people with "high-demand skills" like foreign language acumen and health care training: "For the first time, the program — known as Military Accessions in the National Interest, or MAVNI — will ...
Bronze Age Sundial-Moondial Discovered in Russia
2014 10 16
A strange slab of rock discovered in Russia more than 20 years ago appears to be a combination sundial and moondial from the Bronze Age, a new study finds. The slab is marked with round divots arranged in a circle, and an astronomical analysis suggests that these markings coincide with heavenly events, including sunrises and moonrises. The sundial might be "evidence of ...
Humans may only survive 68 days on Mars
2014 10 15
Space enthusiasts planning a move to Mars may have to wait to relocate: conditions on the Red Planet are such that humans would likely begin dying within 68 days, a new study says. Oxygen levels would start to deplete after about two months and scientists said new technologies are required before humans can permanently settle on Mars, according to the study ...
Tom Sunic’s letter to the US Ambassador to Hungary
2014 10 14
October 11, 2014 Mr. André Goodfriend Chargé d’Affaires Embassy of the United States of America Szabadság tér 12 H-1054 Budapest Dear Mr. Goodfriend, As an American citizen I would hereby like to express my concern over the recent decision by the Hungarian government to ban the National Policy Institute (NPI) conference which had been scheduled to take place in Budapest from October 3 to October 5, 2014. ...
More News »