President Bush's Space Plans

by Christian Neumann

"No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space," President Kennedy said before the first human set a foot on the Moon. Now, 42 years later, another U.S. President would call on the nation to return to the Moon and even to Mars. What remains to be seen is whether Congress and the country will follow.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} After Sean O'Keefe became head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 2001, he launched a wide range of financial and managerial changes. Within a year, two external cost estimates for the space station program were in close agreement with NASA's own figures, raising congressional confidence a notch. Because of the improvements, by January 2003 morale at NASA was greatly improved, but then came Columbia. The destroyed shuttle shattered much of NASA's sense of rebuilding and plunged the agency into a bureaucratic version of public mourning.

Initial interactions between NASA and the White House made it clear to both that the accident had made the need to reexamine, revise, and recommit to the nation's space agenda all the more urgent. That was the start of a wide range of new policy ideas: replacing the aging shuttle fleet, building new robotic space probes, attempting a return to the Moon, and launching human missions to Mars.

Main goals
President Bush outlined a set of proposals "to carry astronauts beyond our orbit to other worlds" and to put human footsteps into the lunar dust for the first time in more than three decades. The idea behind returning to the Moon is to develop the capability to use the Moon as a launch pad for deeper space exploration as well as for tapping resources on the lunar surface that could be used in those missions.

What are these changes about?
NASA's budget for fiscal year 2005 is proposed to increase by 5.6 percent to $16.2 billion. President Bush wants to spend most of the $16.2 billion prescribed for sending astronauts to the Moon and, by redirecting $11 billion from other NASA programs, to Mars in the next five years. The challenge involves several difficult decisions. To free up funds to begin the new effort, NASA would have to retire the aging shuttle program as soon as it finished building the International Space Station (ISS), that is, by 2010 and halt upgrades to the shuttles. In addition, NASA would have to build a new crew exploration vehicle (CEV) that would include all of the plane's capabilities, be able to land on the Moon, and spend long periods in space.
However, this would leave a four-year gap as the soonest CEV launch would be scheduled for 2014, a gap in which NASA would depend on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Because Russia has been found guilty of supplying Iran with nuclear components, in violation of the Iran Non-Proliferation Act of 2000, NASA is prohibited from buying space on Soyuz spacecrafts. For this reason, NASA has turned to the European Space Agency (ESA).

In order to finance the new space plans, other programs will be cut. Among them are the servicing missions to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, thereby sentencing Hubble, one of the most productive scientific instruments of all time, to a slow death.

ISS, we have got a problem!
The effect that this new plan has on the ISS is two-fold. First, the new plan reduces ISS's stature in the US-manned space exploration program, and second, it pushes back the delivery date of a CEV to the space station further back - almost to the end of its service life.
The scientific research to be conducted on ISS by the US will now focus more on the long-term effects of living in space to the human body. So-called micro-gravity science investigations into metallurgical and materials sciences will be dropped as will overtly commercial and fundamental life science research that does not have a human life science linkage. Even the human exploration focus of the US will probably end by the middle of the next decade with the station possibly overtaken by international partners or, perhaps, a private corporation.

Although many analysts consider this new plan as the end of ISS, some others say that it simply lays down the foundation for post-ISS programs. President Bush clearly stated that the ISS will be completed, and budget figures released show funding for ISS slated through 2016. What role the ISS will play in the future of manned space exploration to the US has yet to be determined.

CNN reported that US space pioneer John Glenn was unsatisfied with the new space plans because costly projects that had been in the planning for years are now cancelled. US scientists and scientists within NASA who devoted years and years to their work have been completely caught off-guard.

John Glenn, who retired from the Senate a few years ago, said in the CNN article that basic research had always been part of the human space flight program and the cessation of some of the most unique, cutting-edge research in the history of the whole world on the ISS would be a major failure.

President Bush, "Remarks by the President on U.S. Space Policy at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.", WhiteHouse, 14 Jan 2004,
Sietzen, Cowing, "Inside Bush's space plan",, 14 Jan 2004
Cowing, "Doubts about Bush's space plan", United Press International, 12 Jan 2004
Reuters, "An Astronaut Changes His Tune", The New York Times, 5 Mar 2004
CNN, "Former astronaut Glenn criticizes Bush space plan", 4 Mar 2004
Jones, "Epilogue: When might we go back to the Moon?",, 5 Mar 2004
Leary, "Former Senator-Astronaut Criticizes Space Plan", The New York Times, 5 Mar 2004
ChinaDaily "China plans to put two people into space in 2005", 22 Feb 2004
Reuters, "Shuttle Safety Upgrade Could Cost $700m" xtramsn, 2 Apr 2004
Liston, "Criticism For Bush Space Plan", xtramsn, 5 Mar 2004
CNN, "Mixed reaction to Bush's space plans",16 Jan 2004

Further Websites:
National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA)
The White House
European Space Agency (ESA)
History of Space Exploration
Human Space Flight ISS and Shuttle web site
National Science Foundation
National Research Council
General Accounting Office{/access}