A White House panel of independent space experts says NASA's return-to-the-moon plan just won't fly.
The problem is money. The expert panel estimates it would cost about $3 billion a year beyond NASA's current $18 billion annual budget.
"Under the budget that was proposed, exploration beyond Earth is not viable," panel member Edward Crawley, a professor of aeronautics at MIT, told The Associated Press Tuesday.
The report gives options to President Barack Obama, but said NASA's current plans have to change. Five years ago, then-President George W. Bush proposed returning astronauts to the moon by 2020. To pay for it, he planned on retiring the shuttle next year and shutting down the international space station in 2015.
All those deadlines have to change, the panel said. Space exploration would work better by including other countries and private for-profit firms, the panel concluded.
The panel had previously estimated that the current plan would cost $100 billion in spending to 2020.
Former NASA associate administrator Alan Stern said the report showed the harsh facts that NASA's space plans had "a mismatch between resources and rhetoric." Now, he said, Obama faces a choice of "essentially abandoning human spaceflight" or paying the extra money.
The panel also urged NASA to pay private companies to develop spaceships to ferry astronauts to the space station and low-Earth orbit. That may be riskier, but it would free up NASA to explore elsewhere, the panel said. Elon Musk, chief executive officer of SpaceX, said within a few years he could send astronauts to space for about $20 million a person, less than the $50 million Russia is charging. He hopes to launch his private rocket, Falcon 9, later this year or early next.
NASA should encourage other countries to join the U.S. in exploring space beyond Earth orbit, the panel said.
"If after designing cleverly, building alliances with partners and engaging commercial providers, the nation cannot afford to fund the effort to pursue the goals it would like to embrace, it should accept the disappointment of setting lesser goals," the report said.
If this country can't find the means to send a man to the moon (again), then how the hell can it subsidize healthcare for every man, woman and child? The total moon shot cost of $100 billion is the amount lost to Medicare/Medicaid fraud and mismanagement every year. Imagine the "savings" under a fiat system! Interestingly, the moon panel calls for expanding the effort by coordinating with other countries and involving more private for-profit firms. Sounds almost federalist in nature.