STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
If Americans want to return to the moon, they will have to put up more money. That's the conclusion of a new report from outside experts. The White House asked them to consider issues like the current plan to reach the moon by the year 2020. That report is optimistically called "Seeking a Human Space Flight Program Worthy of a Great Nation." NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce has more.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: At a press conference, he said they tried to involve the public as much as possible, using public meetings, Facebook, Twitter. He personally got over 1,700 emails.
M: They're terrific. One thing they point out is that human space flight is almost like a religion with many people. The only problem is that they're all of a different religion. They all have their own view of what it is that we should be doing.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: His committee's final report doesn't say what President Obama should do with NASA's manned space program.
M: We were not asked by the White House to present a recommendation. We were asked to present alternatives. And we have done that.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: But the Augustine Committee laid out a slew of other options. NASA could fund the shuttle for one more year and extend the life of the space station. It could also switch to using private companies to get astronauts and cargo into orbit close to Earth.
M: We think NASA would be better served to spend its money and its ability, which is immense, focusing on going beyond low Earth orbit rather than running a trucking service to low Earth orbit.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: But to do any meaningful exploration, under the current plans or some alternative, Augustine says NASA needs more money - a budget boost of $3 billion a year.
M: We didn't deal, of course, with how much money is available after you deal with health care and the national debt and two wars and so on. That's beyond our capability.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: That's for the White House to consider. The panel has already briefed officials on its findings. Doc Mirelson is a spokesperson for NASA.
M: NASA will work with the executive offices of the president and put together, I think, an agreed upon recommendation to go to the president.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: The rockets and moon plans in NASA's existing Constellation program do have strong support from some members of Congress.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: We are very committed to the Constellation program. We've spent about six years and close to $9 billion on the development of Constellation.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Gabrielle Giffords is a Democrat from Arizona who chairs the House subcommittee on space and aeronautics. Her husband is an astronaut. I asked her what would happen if President Obama wanted to scrap part of Constellation and go for - say, an asteroid instead of the moon.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Well, I frankly don't think Congress would react really well to that.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.
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