Astronauts, employees taking sides over NASA plan

April 14, 2010 8:32:13 PM PDT
President Barack Obama is going to detail his plans for the space agency once the shuttle retires, but there is hope of a new vision - one that keeps the shuttle going. The future is also uncertain for the moon exploration program. The White House says the president's plan increases NASA's budget $6 billion over five years. However, the question many are asking is will any of that money be seen in Space City?

The president has been under attack by some former astronauts for his budget proposal and plans to cancel the Constellation program. On Thursday, he will unveil a revised plan at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Larry Bell, endowed professor of University of Houston Space Architecture program, says while there is vision, will there be substance.

"Is it doable? Is it sustainable given that presidents come and go, and many of the specifics go to 2015 and who knows who will be president in 2015," said Bell.

The White House released key points his speech will address:

  • Plans for a manned asteroid mission
  • Development of a heavy lift rocket
  • Goal of sending humans to Mars
  • Restructuring the Orion vehicle
  • Extend the life of the International Space Station

George Abbey, Senior Fellow of Space Policy at Rice University's Baker Institute of Public Policy, was Director of Johnson Space Center for six years. He says extending the life of the ISS is difficult to do without extending the life of the shuttle program.

"I think people are concerned that if we're going to retain a leadership role in space, the vehicle that really has given us the leadership in space has been the space shuttle, because there is no vehicle like it and no vehicle that can do what it does," said Abbey.

More than a dozen astronauts and NASA staff have sent a letter to President Obama criticizing his plans to end the shuttle program and cancel the Constellation program. They point out that thousands of people will lose their jobs. They also say too many men and women have worked too hard and sacrificed too much to see their efforts needlessly thrown away. You can read the letter here.

Astronaut Homer Hickam wrote a letter to the astronauts of Johnson Space Center, challenging them. It read, "In my opinion, the only people left who can derail the end of NASA are you, the astronauts... Stand up and tell the world... the space program he (president) touts will destroy your hopes and dreams, not to mention all those who have supported you so well."

The former director of JSC, Chris Kraft Jr., said, "The Obama plan does not make sense, would not save money, is too risky, and would lead the U.S. down the wrong path."

Yet others are supporting the White House plan.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin released a statement Wednesday saying in part, "The President's program will help us be in this endeavor for the long haul and will allow us to again push our boundaries to achieve new and challenging things beyond Earth. I believe that this is the right program at the right time, and I hope that NASA and our dedicated space community will embrace this new direction as much as I do."

The Chairman of the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee also supports the plan. Norman R. Augustine said, "The key to the success of such an endeavor will be to sustain funding at least at the level of the current budget plan and for NASA and industry to combine their remarkable space capabilities to provide America a human space exploration program worthy of a great nation."

Eyewitness News reporter Kevin Quinn is in Florida for Thursday's space summit and the future of NASA.

We'll be live streaming President Obama's NASA speech Thursday at 1:30pm CT here on abc13.com.


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