National Journal Needs Space Reporting Expertise

National Journal Needs Space Reporting Expertise

Editorial Comment

The National Journal (NJ), one of the most highly respected inside-the-beltway news sources, really needs to beef up its space expertise.

In an article today (subscription required), a NJ reporter totally misunderstands what happened to the Constellation program. In the article, entitled “Spending Bill Funds NASA Mission to the Moon,” the reporter states that “Among the budget cuts that President Obama had to agree to in order to avert a government shutdown, Republicans re-gifted him one that he willingly made long ago: $3.8 billion to further NASA’s space exploration. The money will fund NASA’s Constellation Program, which was cut entirely under the president’s initial fiscal year 2011 budget proposal.”

The full year Continuing Resolution (CR) does not, of course, fund the Constellation program at all. In fact, it finally allows NASA to cancel the Constellation program, relieving the agency of constraints imposed by the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act that prevented the agency from shutting it down.

To make sure everyone is on the same page, Constellation was the George W. Bush Administration’s program to return humans to the Moon by 2020 and someday send them to Mars using an Orion capsule and the Ares I and V launch vehicles. Ares I and Orion would also have taken people back and forth to low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS). That program is dead.

President Obama wants the commercial sector to take care of taking people back and forth to LEO and ISS, while NASA invests in technologies to enable beyond-LEO human missions, starting with a trip to an asteroid by 2025. The President does not want to send people back to the Moon’s surface because that is a “been there, done that” objective.

Congress did not agree with the President and the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue struck a compromise in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The law permits NASA to facilitate the development of “commercial crew” for LEO as the President wanted, while leaving open the next destination for NASA’s human spaceflight program beyond LEO. It could be the Moon, an asteroid, a Lagrange Point, or Mars. As the NJ reporter later correctly states, the CR advances the Orion spacecraft and the creation of a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV), but the reporter obviously does not understand that that is not the Constellation program. Orion and the HLLV are simply pieces of hardware, not a program. What the new NASA program is, other than going “beyond LEO,” remains a work in progress, but if President Obama has his way, it will not be to the surface of the Moon.

Constellation is dead, and the next destination for U.S. human spaceflight beyond LEO is completely up in the air. The CR absolutely does not fund “NASA’s Mission to the Moon” as the NJ headline states.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.