Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Flexible Path to the Moon and the 2011 NASA Budget: Introduction to Adjusting the Budget

This post begins to consider how to implement the Flexible Path to the Moon largely, but not entirely, within the constraints of the 2011 NASA budget. First, let's consider the first of the 3 steps in the Flexible Path to the Moon. From the original post, the first step is:

Establish a Foothold - The first phase includes developing commercial and international partnerships for the full Flexible Path to the Moon, beginning a long-term program to maintain and fully use the ISS through at least 2020, developing U.S. commercial crew and cargo services to support the ISS, establishing a vigorous technology development program, and starting an ambitious robotic lunar precursor effort for science, resource scouting, engineering tests, and more with NASA, commercial, and international participation. This phase could also include robotic precursors to destinations that are beyond the scope of the Flexible Path to the Moon, like Near Earth Objects and Mars Moons. Given the fairly large number of robotic missions envisioned here in support of the Flexible Path to the Moon, it is likely that there would be fewer outer planets robot missions.

As it turns out, the 2011 NASA budget proposal includes the ISS, commercial crew and cargo, technology development, and robotic precursor elements. In other words, it's a good start for step 1 of the Flexible Path to the Moon. My guess is that the Flexible Path to Mars rather than the Flexible Path to the Moon will be selected, so the focus of the commercial and international partnerships, technology development, and robotic precursors may include more emphasis than the Flexible Path to the Moon would warrant on destinations that come after that path such as NEOs and Mars, but in its general form the 2011 budget matches this first step.

Future posts will look more closely at some of the prominent items in the 2011 NASA budget proposal to see how they could be shaped to better lay the foundation for the Flexible Path to the Moon. These posts will cover Planetary Science, the other NASA Science directorates considered collectively (Earth Science, Heliophysics, and Astrophysics), Space Technology, Technology Demonstration, Heavy Lift and Propulsion Technology, and Robotic Precursor Missions. Finally, I'll present some thoughts on actually starting beyond-LEO missions.

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