White House Confirms Course Change for NASA

Obama Urged to Tackle U.S. Space Problems
This is a small version of a massive Gigapan photo of U.S. President Barack Obama's Inauguration on Jan. 20, 2008 was taken by photographer David Bergman. (Image credit: David Bergman via NASA.)

WASHINGTON -- The administration of U.S. President BarackObama is canceling NASA?s  current space shuttle replacement- and lunarexploration-plan and is prepared to fight any congressional effort to save it,the nation?s top budget official said Jan. 31.  

During a teleconference with reporters one day before theWhite House was to send its 2011budget request to Congress, White House Office of Management and BudgetDirector Peter Orszag and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeifferconfirmed Obama?s plan to kill NASA?s Constellation program, a five-year-oldeffort to replace the aging space shuttle fleet with new rockets and spacecraftoptimized to return astronauts to the Moon.

 ??[W]e are proposing a cancellationof the Constellation program at NASA even while making other investments inlong range [research and development] there, which again is a significantstep,? Orszag said in response to a reporter?s question about the tough choicesObama faced in drafting his 2011 spending plan.

The key elements of Constellation include the Orion crewcapsule, its Ares 1 launcher, a larger rocket dubbed Ares 5 and the Altairlunar lander. Obama?s top-line spending proposal for NASA is expected toincrease slightly over the 2010 appropriation of $18.7 billion and wouldincluding some funding for an alternative means for transporting crews to andfrom the international space station.

Orszag said that in addition to research and development,NASA?s proposal invests in ?advance robotics and other steps that will help toinspire Americans and not just return a man or a woman to the Moon butundertake the longer range research that could succeed in human spaceflight toMars.?

Facing a federal deficit of $1.26 trillion in 2011, Obama isproposing a three-year freeze on most non-defense discretionary spending, amove the president believes will save $250 billion over the next 10 years,Orszag said. In addition, the White House is proposing more than 120 programterminations, reductions and efficiencies that together are expected to save$20 billion in 2011, Orszag said.

?You?re going to see a whole variety of measures thatcurtail spending and activity in some areas while investing more in others,? hesaid. ?And again within the non-security discretionary sphere, achieving thatoverall cap.?

In response to a reporter?s question about congressionalopposition to proposed program cuts that could lead to job losses in somestates, Pfeiffer said the White House would fight special interests on CapitolHill.

?We don?t expect that this is going to be easy,? Pfeiffersaid. ?There was a lot of opposition to some of the cuts that we proposed lastyear. And we had I think a historically very successful rate about 60 percentof the cuts we proposed were actually enacted into the law.?

Pfeiffer said some funding reductions not enacted in theprior year budget would be evident in Obama?s 2011 spending plan.

?Some of those cuts we didn?t get are back in this budgetand we?re going to continue pushing for them because we don?t believe that justbecause it has a powerful constituency, either on the Hill or on K Street,wasteful programs should continue to exist,? Pfeiffer said.

When asked by a reporter what he would say to federalworkers whose jobs could be eliminated if the president?s 2011 budget isenacted, Orszag said the spending proposal would expand the federal workforcein some areas, including defense, homeland security and veterans affairs.

?In addition, we have a significant effort under way and thebudget includes additional funding to expand our acquisition workforce tooversee the roughly half a trillion dollars in federal contracts each year,?Orszag said. ?In most cases, these agencies, you?ll see tomorrow the agencieshave stepped forward with a sensible approach to achieving this overall cap.?

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SpaceNews Staff Writer

Amy Klamper is a space reporter and former staff writer for the space industry news publication SpaceNews. From 2004 to 2010, Amy covered U.S. space policy, NASA and space industry professionals for SpaceNews. Her stories included profiles on major players in the space industry, space policy work in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as national policy set by the White House.