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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
If you go to NASA's Web site, you can find lots of pictures and videos showing off its Constellation program, the rockets and spaceships being developed to return astronauts to the moon. Well, if the Obama administration gets its way, all of that will soon be gone. As NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports, the proposed budget kills the Constellation program and relies on private companies to rocket astronauts into orbit.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: Seven years ago today, Space Shuttle Columbia broke up on its return to Earth. Everyone on board died. In the wake of that disaster, then-President George W. Bush laid out a new vision for NASA. It called for retiring the space shuttle by 2010 and returning astronauts to the moon by 2020. Well, the space shuttle program will end this year, after just five more flights, but officials now say the moon plan is off-track and misguided.
Mr.�CHARLES BOLDEN (Administrator, NASA): The truth is, we were not on a sustainable path to get back to the moon's surface.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Charles Bolden is a former astronaut and the head of NASA.
Mr.�BOLDEN: And as we focused much of our effort and funding on getting to the moon, we were neglecting investments in the key technologies that would be required to go beyond.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Bolden spoke during a teleconference on the proposed new budget for NASA. The budget kills NASA's Constellation program, saying it's too costly, behind schedule and lacks innovation. Instead, the budget extends the life of the International Space Station and gives NASA funding to buy astronauts high-tech taxi rides to the station on spaceships built and operated by private companies. Bolden vowed that NASA would still provide oversight to ensure the astronauts' safety.
Mr.�BOLDEN: I flew on the space shuttle four times. I lost friends in two space shuttle tragedies. So I give you my word these vehicles will be safe.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: He said NASA would be freed up to develop new technologies, like ways to refuel in orbit. He says these are needed to someday go not just to the moon, but beyond. Bolden also noted that NASA is getting a substantial budget boost, an additional $6 billion over the next five years.
The proposed changes are in line with what a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts recommended last fall. Former astronaut Sally Ride served on that panel. She thinks the shift in NASA's direction would be a good thing.
Ms.�SALLY RIDE (Former Astronaut): It ensures that as we explore the solar system, we'll be doing it with new technologies, and we'll be doing it arm-in-arm with our commercial and our international partners.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: But it would be a big deal to cancel a huge, multi-billion-dollar program like the Constellation and turn to spaceships designed and run by private companies. John Logsdon is with the George Washington University's Space Policy Institute.
Professor�JOHN LOGSDON (Space Policy Institute, George Washington University): It is a different approach to doing human space flight than NASA has followed, really, since its earliest days.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: He says this kind of change would put NASA under a great deal of stress in the coming months and years.
Mr.�LOGSDON: It's not going to be fun for anybody.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Some lawmakers have already raised concerns. Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama said the proposed budget, quote, "begins the death march for the future of U.S. human space flight." Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is a former astronaut who represents Florida. He says it's a gamble that private companies will be able to develop new spaceships quickly.
Senator BILL NELSON (Democrat, Florida): If they don't make it or if they're delayed, then we're up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: He noted that even though the president can propose changes, any major decisions will have to be made jointly with Congress.
Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.
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