Former Astronaut Says Man Space Flight May Not be Dead

The White House is promising to fight any congressional efforts to save NASA's "Constellation" program. The Obama administration's budget plan out today calls for Constellation to be scrapped. NASA has spent nine billion dollars over the last few years on Constellation. It's intended to replace the aging shuttle fleet, and eventually return astronauts to the moon. But at least one expert in the space industry says it's too soon to write off the program, just yet — as David Pitman reports.

White House budget planners are giving NASA a bigger overall budget.  But there's no room in that nearly 19 billion dollar spending plan for Constellation.  Instead, there's more money set aside to come up with an alternate way to get astronauts to and from the space station once the shuttle is retired.

However, former astronaut Leroy Chiao says that doesn't necessarily mean Constellation — or at least the idea of it — is dead.  He says this saga will probably have an ending similar to the International Space Station, which was proposed, canceled, then brought back to life with a new purpose, and a new name.

"Constellation, the name may change, it may be re-scoped, most likely will be re-scoped.  Maybe the goals will be altered a little bit, but the program will go forward, I'm pretty sure."

Chiao says he's cautiously optimistic about the proposed budget for NASA, pointing out there's still quite a bit of money in the plan for human spaceflight, and a growing emphasis on commercial cargo operators, along with an exploration program that could result in people traveling to Mars. 

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David Pitman

Local Host, Morning Edition

The one question David hears most often isn't "What is it like to work for an NPR member station?" or "Have you ever met Terry Gross?" (he has)...