WASHINGTON, DC - The Obama administration is expected this week to announce a review of the Constellation space program - the planned replacement for the shuttle.
For months, there have been rumblings that the Ares 1 rocket and Orion capsule were experiencing so many technical and budgetary problems that NASA would fail to meet its targets of a 2015 launch to the International Space Station and a 2020 return to the moon. Now, according to the Orlando Sentinel, a review is to examine the viability of the entire project.
In tests, Ares has been experiencing violent shaking caused by vibrations in its solid-rocket first stage. There are also concerns that it could crash into its launch tower on takeoff. Meanwhile, the total cost of the rocket has risen from an estimated $28 billion to more than $40 billion. NASA has cut the proposed passenger capacity from six to four in order to cut costs.
Currently, Ares 1 is scheduled for a test flight some time after the end of August, launching from the Kennedy Space Centre and splashing down in the Atlantic.
NASA doesn't seem like a big priority for Obama. He hasn't yet named the person he wants to lead the organisation, following Michael D Griffin's departure in January. During his presidential campaign, he talked at one point about delaying the Constellation project in order to pay for education initiatives - although he later said he did support Constellation after all.
The announcement is expected tomorrow to coincide with the release of Obama's $18.7 billion spending plan for NASA. The review could be completed by fall. Norman Augustine, a retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp. and former president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, has been tipped to head the study.