12 February 2004

Expert warns NASA can't afford Mars plan

An aerospace executive warned a presidential commission Wednesday that NASA does not have enough money - or bright young stars - to achieve President Bush's goal of returning astronauts to the moon and flying from there to Mars.

'It would be a grave mistake to undertake a major new space objective on the cheap. To do so, in my opinion, would be an invitation to disaster,' said Norman Augustine, retired chairman of Lockheed Martin Corp. and head of a panel that examined the future of the space program for the first President Bush.

Augustine was among five aerospace experts who addressed the first public hearing of the current President Bush's space exploration commission, held in Washington.

Commission member Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist who is director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, asked Augustine whether $15 billion a year for 10 years would be enough to set NASA on course to fulfill the moon-and-then-on-to-Mars vision put forth by Bush one month ago. The space agency's annual budget has been around $15 billion in recent years.

Augustine pointed out that during the next decade, NASA will still have the enormous cost of running all its centers, the space shuttle fleet and the international space station, not to mention conducting research. He said the nation traditionally has underestimated the cost of big programs.

Tyson pressed Augustine, asking: 'Are you suggesting $150 billion over the next 10 years would not be enough if it all went to that mission?'

Augustine replied that he had not done enough analysis to give an answer, 'but I guess if I had to bet, I'd bet that it wouldn't be enough.'

Seems like a really silly project to close down Hubble for. While strictly, NASA cites safety reasons for the Hubble closure, I see the real reason as the drive to get the shuttle/ISS program closed down ASAP to free what little money is available for the grand Mars design.

That the weaknesses in the station and shuttle programs are the product of precisely the same fiscal compromises that already afflict the Mars project doesn't seem to have registered yet.

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