NPR logo Budget Analysis By Issue: Space Exploration

Budget Analysis By Issue: Space Exploration

The NASA budget for fiscal year 2011 would give the $18.7 billion space agency a substantial financial boost — an additional $6 billion over five years — while dramatically changing the direction of future human exploration. The budget would kill the Constellation program, a new system of rockets and space capsules that NASA has been pursuing to return astronauts to the moon by 2020. That program was to be the successor to the nearly 30-year-old space shuttle program, which is due to be retired after just five more flights. But the budget documents say Constellation was "over budget, behind schedule and lacking in innovation." Instead, the budget would fund NASA to contract with private industry to provide astronaut transportation to the international space station as soon as possible.

The budget also provides funds to extend the life of the space station past its previously planned retirement date of 2016.

For several years NASA has been touting its planned return to the moon and the eventual creation of a permanent manned lunar outpost. In this new budget, that vision appears to be dead.

Instead of repeating and building on many of the achievements of the Apollo era, the administration favors turning to the private sector to bring astronauts up to the International Space Station, while having NASA focus on research and development for future exploration technologies — like closed-loop life support systems and advanced in-space propulsion — to get astronauts out farther and faster into space. But this huge change will likely face opposition in Congress, which has shown strong support for the Constellation program and its moon-focused goals, and where there has already been concern about jobs being lost after the space shuttle program ends.