The budget request, released Monday, would scrap NASA’s Constellation program to build the Orion spacecraft and Ares rockets for new manned moon missions — a $9 billion investment to date. The request calls for $19 billion in funding for NASA in 2011, a slight increase from the $18.3 billion it spent in 2010.
The request does, however, pledge extra funding to extend the life of the International Space Station through at least 2020 and offers $6 billion over five years to support commercially built spaceships to launch NASA astronauts into space. The space agency’s three remaining space shuttles are due to retire later this year.
The budget announcement occurred on the seventh anniversary of NASA’s Columbia shuttle disaster on Feb. 1, 2003, in which seven astronauts were killed during re-entry due to wing heat shield damage. It came just days after the 24th anniversary of the Challenger shuttle accident that killed seven astronauts on Jan. 28, 1986.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former space shuttle commander, said that while the budget cancels the program building the agency’s space shuttle replacement — the Orion crew vehicle — it is not trading away safety to embrace new, privately built spaceships to fly astronauts. It also paves the way for a “21st-century space program,” he said.
“No one cares about safety more than I. I flew on the space shuttle four times. I lost friends in the two space shuttle tragedies. So I give you my word these vehicles will be safe,” Bolden said. “They will fulfill a critical NASA need, spur industrial innovation and free up NASA to do the bold, forward-leaning work that we need to do to explore beyond Earth.”
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