Friday, July 22, 2005

Moon Conference: NASA's Revolution In Human Spaceflight.

Chris Shank of NASA, who describes his job as bringing together budgets and policy, was the keynote speaker for Friday’s session of the Return to the Moon Conference. The theme of the conference is “reality check.” His remarks fit that bill. Here are some significant points from his talk.

Shank said that the debate between science funding and human spaceflight funding is an artificial one because for budgeting purposes they do not "trade dollars" between science and human space exploration. He gave as an example recent large cost overruns in the James Webb telescope. Those cost overruns are going to have to be absorbed by other astronomy projects and the astronomers are going to have to prioritize.

The Vision for Space Exploration plans are not affordable for the US government unless the private sector steps up and contributes. The private sector is being expected to fill the role of transporting cargo and crew from Earth to Low Earth Orbit that is currently filled by the shuttle. The Crew Exploration Vehicle is not intended to replace the shuttle as an Earth to LEO ferry. The mission of the CEV is going to be exploration. It will be capable of replacing the shuttle as an Earth-LEO ferry, but only if the private sector does not step up and fill that role. If the private sector doesn’t fill that role and the CEV must be used instead, the exploration mission will be affected.

This is a huge change from how NASA has operated in the past. Welcome to the revolution indeed.

One concern at the conference has been whether the President’s Vision for Space Exploration will survive after his presidency. Shank pointed to the 383-15 vote in Congress to fully fund the President’s vision as evidence that there “considerable progress in Congressional buy-in” for the Vision, which will help it to survive past the end of President Bush’s term.

-tdr

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