Money for NASA priorities at risk in next Congress

Dec 2, 2014

Photo: NASA

By Ledyard King

Key elements of NASA’s space program faced tough scrutiny from Republicans even before the Nov. 4 elections gave the GOP control of the Senate and expanded its majority in the House.

So when the next Congress convenes in January, the Obama administration can expect more questions — and criticisms — targeting some of the agency’s top priorities, including:

  • A controversial mission to corral an asteroid into orbit around the moon and use it as a stepping-stone for a mission to Mars. The mission also would give NASA scientists insight on how to deflect asteroids headed to Earth.
  • Funding for the Commercial Crew Program that aims to replace the space shuttle with rockets developed by private aerospace companies.
  • The agency’s research into Earth’s changing climate.

The biggest threat to NASA’s ambitions is a lack of money, said Scott Pace, who directs the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.


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11 comments on “Money for NASA priorities at risk in next Congress

  • Meanwhile – across the pond!

    .Research ministers have approved the development of a new rocket for Europe.

    The Ariane 6 will succeed the Ariane 5, which, although highly successful, is now facing stiff competition on price.

    The politicians believe industry will find the new vehicle cheaper to construct and to operate.

    European Space Agency member states authorised the project at a special council meeting in Luxembourg, where they also agreed funding for the space station and a rover to go to Mars.

    All up, the Esa nations came forward with 5.924bn euros in contributions to cover a number of programmes over the next few years.

    “I think I can summarise this ministerial council by saying it is a success; I’d even go so far as to say that it is a great success,” said agency director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain.


    The Ariane 6 concept is seen as the riposte. This vehicle would employ more modern methods of production and a streamlined assembly to try to reduce unit costs.

    Moreover, because the rocket’s modular design can be tailored to a wide range of satellite and mission types, it should gain further economies from frequent use.

    Ministers committed 4bn euros to cover not only the 6’s development but also an upgrade to Esa’s small Italian-built Vega rocket. In future, these two vehicles will actually share some propulsion elements.

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  • Not all is well however, at least not in Holland. The present conservative government tried to get rid of the ESTEC research and production facilities some time ago, but felt unable to do so given the backlash it caused. It only means they will keep quiet for a while and try again when given half a chance.

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  • There are also some interesting illustrations on this link.

    Orion will be launched on a Delta rocket out of Cape Canaveral in Florida on a short journey above the Earth to test key technologies.

    The conical vessel is reminiscent of the Apollo command ships that took men to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s, but bigger and with cutting-edge systems.

    Given that this is a first outing, there will be no people aboard.

    Nonetheless, the US space agency describes the demonstration as a major event.

    Nasa has a window in which to launch Orion of about two-and-a-half hours, which began at 07:05 local time (12:05 GMT).

    Orion is being developed alongside a powerful new rocket that will have its own debut in 2017 or 2018.

    For Thursday’s flight, the Delta IV-Heavy rocket – currently the beefiest launcher in the world – is being used as a stand-in.

    It will send Orion twice around the globe, throwing the ship up to an altitude of almost 6,000km (3,600 miles).

    This will set up a fast fall back to Earth, with a re-entry speed into the atmosphere close to 30,000km/h (20,000mph) – near what would be expected of a capsule coming back from the Moon.

    It should give engineers the opportunity to check the performance of Orion’s critical heat shield, which is likely to experience temperatures in excess of 2,000C (4,000F).

    They will also watch how the parachutes deploy as they gently lower the capsule into Pacific waters off Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula.

    There is still an absence of defined missions or finance for these new systems.

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  • Nasa has a window in which to launch Orion of about two-and-a-half hours, which began at 07:05 local time (12:05 GMT).

    Having missed this launch window yesterday, the launch has gone ahead successfully today.
    Some of the press are still babbling on about “Mars launches”, despite the possibility Mars missions being a very long way down the technical developments and funding list, with asteroid and Lunar missions well ahead of that.

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  • Successful launch @ approx. 6 am Eastern time – cargo includes toys and trinkets for family and friends. (“well, if it’s been in outer space!”).

    NASA replaced countdown clock with a screen; looks nice, hope the cool retro one was saved.

    edit: oops, beat me to it. Yes, lots of talk of going to the red planet. More “sexy” (ratings) than asteroids and been-there-done-that moon missions, I’m guessing.

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  • Meanwhile on the ISS the technologies continue to develop!

    Astronauts on the International Space Station have used their 3-D printer to make a wrench from instructions sent up in an email.

    It is the first time hardware has been “emailed” to space.

    Nasa was responding to a request by ISS commander Barry Wilmore for a ratcheting socket wrench.

    Previously, if astronauts requested a specific item they could have waited months for it to be flown up on one of the regular supply flights.

    Mike Chen, founder of Made In Space, the company behind the 3-D printer, said: “We had overheard ISS Commander Barry Wilmore (who goes by “Butch”) mention over the radio that he needed one, so we designed one in CAD and sent it up to him faster than a rocket ever could have.”

    Mr Wilmore installed the printer on the ISS on 17 November. On 25 November he used the machine to fabricate its first object, a replacement part for the printer.

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