U.S. faces difficulties to mount major human space program

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, July 19, 2010
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After accomplishing so much in space for half a century, the United States now appears to lack not only the resources to mount a major human space program, but also the political will to eliminate the thousands of jobs connected with it, it was reported on Sunday.

The likely termination of the Constellation moon project points to the constraints on the once ambitious space program that accomplished so much in half a century, the Los Angeles Times said.

President Barack Obama in January proposed canceling the troubled moon program, and a key Senate committee voted this week to kill Constellation. The Constellation program is designed to send humans back to the moon. It is the largest acoustic test chamber in the world, created to buffet the spacecraft with intense sound waves, simulating the stresses of launch.

The manned space program is in deeper trouble and greater turmoil than at any time since the U.S. landed men on the moon more than 40 years ago, the paper quoted veteran space industry observers as saying.

"It is a sad spectacle," said Loren Thompson, a longtime aerospace policy expert in Washington, referring to the dual-edged political sword that has constrained the once ambitious U.S. space program. "It is devolving into everybody trying to protect their home turf."

Politicians cannot agree on long-term goals for the human spaceflight program, and the vast network of NASA facilities and private contractors is unable to make plans that keep pace with political action in the capital, the paper said.

"The choice is: Do we have a space program or a jobs program, because we can't have both," said Jeff Greason, president of XCOR Aerospace Inc. in Mojave, California and a member of a presidential panel that delivered a scathing assessment of the space program last year.

The manned space program is powered by 9 billion U.S. dollars of NASA's 18.7-billion budget this fiscal year and creates jobs by the tens of thousands across the country.

It is, by all accounts, a Cadillac enterprise, driven by high-profile past failures that have forced NASA into an extraordinarily risk-averse and expensive approach to spaceflight, the paper said.

But, according to a report last year from the presidential panel of space experts, the program was never adequately funded, receiving perhaps only a third of what it needed to meet its objectives.

The project was estimated to cost 240 billion dollars but was getting about 3 billion per year, the paper said.

The battle over Constellation has revolved largely around jobs at NASA's major centers in Texas, Florida and Alabama. But the termination of Constellation also threatens companies that have long supported NASA, such as rocket engine manufacturers Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in Canoga Park and ATK Aerospace Systems in Utah, the paper said.

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