Obama orders review of NASA return to the moon

As agency presents its $18B budget, White House calls for closer look at space flight plans

Plans for NASA to send humans back to the moon might be in jeopardy.

President Barack Obama's administration today called for an independent review of NASA's human space flight activities.

Looking at possible alternatives to programs already in the pipeline, the review is geared toward making sure the country's human space flight program remains "safe, innovative and affordable" after the space shuttle is retired, NASA says.

Acting NASA Administrator Christopher Scolese said in a statement, "The thousands of workers who have given so much over the years to bring human spaceflight to where it is today deserve nothing less than a full assurance their commitment will be applied in the smartest and most practical ways."

The review announcement came just as NASA today unveiled its $18.69 billion budget request for fiscal year 2010. It marks a $903.6 million, or 5%, increase over 2009 funding.

NASA says that, all totaled, an extra $2 billion has been added to the agency's 2009 and 2010 budgets under the Obama administration.

Former President George W. Bush presented to NASA the goal of going back to the moon, and then a move on to Mars.

The space agency has been working toward setting up a lunar outpost by 2020. NASA scientists have been planning on using robots to help humans get the job done.

NASA spokesman Allard Beutel has told Computerworld that robotics will be needed to build any workstation or habitat structure on the moon.

Carl Walz, director of advanced capabilities at NASA and a former astronaut, has said that NASA scientists plan on positioning robots and robotic rovers on Mars before the first astronauts arrive.

That way, the robots will be ready to help their human counterparts on what will probably be NASA's most taxing mission yet. The robots also may be called on to create rocket fuel out of gases in the atmosphere, so the astronauts have the fuel they need to get home.

With the review announced today, the entire project may be up in the air.

The independent review team, which will be led by Norman Augustine, a former aerospace industry executive and a recipient of the National Medal of Technology, will work with members of NASA.

The space agency also noted that the team will consult with Congress, the White House and the public, along with industry and international partners.

NASA reported that it will continue its work on developing technology for the planned moon mission while the review is being conducted.

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