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President seeks $1 billion more in NASA funding


TRIBE Member
Bush unveils vision for moon and beyond
President seeks $1 billion more in NASA funding
Wednesday, January 14, 2004 Posted: 2133 GMT ( 5:33 AM HKT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush spurred Americans to "continue the journey" Wednesday, proposing a new spacecraft to return to the moon by 2015, and to eventually use a base there to send a manned mission to Mars.

"The desire to explore and understand is part of our character and that quest has brought tangible benefits that have improved our lives in countless ways," Bush said, during his speech at NASA headquarters, a few blocks from the White House.

"Much remains for us to explore and to learn. ... It is time for America to take the next steps."

Bush asked Congress to increase funding for NASA by $1 billion over five years, while radically transforming the space agency's manned space flight goals -- from low-Earth orbit to audacious missions to the moon and, ultimately, Mars.

Bush also asked NASA to shift an additional $11 billion from other programs to focus on his proposal. The White House's nine-page executive policy directive offered a detailed blueprint to lead NASA from its focus on the space shuttle and the International Space Station to a new class of rockets and spacecraft that will carry humans on exploratory journeys much longer and farther than the shuttle can travel.

"I think what the president has touched on is an important aspect of what is part of our human makeup -- which is to be explorers," said NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe in an exclusive interview with CNN.

Space shuttles are limited to low Earth orbit -- no higher than about 300 miles above the surface -- and can stay in space for slightly longer than two weeks. The International Space Station orbits the Earth at an altitude of about 240 miles.

The space agency will use its first injection of new funding to begin work immediately on a "Crew Exploration Vehicle" designed to carry small crews of people -- not cargo -- into deep space. The CEV may or may not be a reusable craft as the shuttle is.

"It is going to look totally different than what the space shuttle looks like today," said O'Keefe. "So we have to get about the business of developing that capability right away."

The Bush plan calls for NASA to fulfill its obligation to 15 other partner nations to complete the International Space Station in the next five to six years.

As it turns out, those station assembly and resupply sorties will be the final missions for the space shuttle fleet, which first flew in 1981 and is currently grounded in the wake of the Columbia tragedy a year ago.

As part of its investigation into that accident, which killed the seven-member crew, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board has told NASA it must re-certify the space shuttle fleet for flight if it wishes to continue using the fleet beyond 2010.

The Bush administration has decided not to initiate this onerous, expensive task, thus sealing the fate for the remaining shuttles -- Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour.

NASA projects a new CEV might be ready for a mission to the moon between 2015 and 2020. The space agency would like to establish a base on the surface of the moon -- as a test bed and way station for a manned Mars expedition.

"The human thirst for knowledge ultimately cannot be satisfied by even the most vivid pictures or the most detailed measurements," Bush said. "We need to see and examine and touch for ourselves. And only human beings are capable of adapting to the inevitable uncertainties posed by space travel."

There is congressional concern that the lofty goals in the Bush initiative may far exceed the proposed budget.

"The first year after [President John] Kennedy announced the Apollo program, the NASA budget was doubled," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, the only current member of Congress who has flown in space.

"And in the second year it was doubled again. That's not realistic today. But five percent a year increases are not going to get us to the moon."

NASA administrator O'Keefe said the funding requested by the Bush administration is more akin to seed money for development, which will more precisely frame the debate for more funding in the future.

O'Keefe hopes NASA can develop a robust, modular system for space travel that will allow policy makers to make "a la carte" decisions on destinations.

"Each of the individual milestones or objectives is to be priced out," said O'Keefe. "It depends on which option you choose. But between now and then, the objective is to try to find the means to make any of those debates possible."

NASA said it will use money from the space shuttle and space station programs' budgets as they wind down to further fund the new space effort as it progresses.

If all goes according to plan, it appears likely there will be at least a three-year period beginning in 2010 when the United States will not have a vehicle capable of carrying humans to space.

While not unprecedented -- nearly six years elapsed between the last Apollo mission in 1975 and the first space shuttle flight in 1981-- it is an issue that is causing some concern among space advocates.

"There's going to be great concern in Congress and in NASA that you're going to have that period of time with no human space flight actual, no humans actually flying from the United States. We'll be dependent on the Russians for Soyuz," said Marc Schlather, president of ProSpace, a grass-roots space lobbying group.

The seed of this bold idea was planted in the summer of 2002, during O'Keefe's first months as NASA administrator.

In discussions with President Bush, O'Keefe shared his surprise that the agency had no plans to explore beyond low Earth orbit and began discussing a bolder vision for NASA. The president was immediately supportive, according to O'Keefe.

The idea was percolating within the administration when Columbia disintegrated over Texas on February 1.

In a tragic twist of irony, the loss of the orbiter and crew added new urgency and focus to the administration's big plans for NASA.

"Columbia's crew did not turn away from the challenge, and neither will we," Bush said.
Alex D. from TRIBE on Utility Room