A White House panel of independent space experts says NASA's return-to-the-moon plan just won't fly.
The problem is money. The expert panel estimates it would cost about $3 billion a year beyond NASA's current $18 billion annual budget.
"Under the budget that was proposed, exploration beyond Earth is not viable," panel member Edward Crawley, a professor of aeronautics at MIT, told The Associated Press Tuesday.
The report gives options to President Barack Obama, but said NASA's current plans have to change. Five years ago, then-President George W. Bush proposed returning astronauts to the moon by 2020. To pay for it, he planned on retiring the shuttle next year and shutting down the international space station in 2015.
All those deadlines have to change, the panel said. Space exploration would work better by including other countries and private for-profit firms, the panel concluded.
The panel had previously estimated that the current plan would cost $100 billion in spending to 2020.
Former NASA associate administrator Alan Stern said the report showed the harsh facts that NASA's space plans had "a mismatch between resources and rhetoric." Now, he said, Obama faces a choice of "essentially abandoning human spaceflight" or paying the extra money.
The panel, chaired by retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, includes executives, scientists and ex-astronauts. It posted a summary report Tuesday on both White House and NASA web sites.
NASA can't get beyond low-Earth orbit without spending more, but space travel with astronauts is important, the panel found. That will cost an extra $3 billion a year and is "unquestionably worth it," Crawley said.
The question is where to go.
The Bush plan was to go to the moon, which would serve as a training ground for flights to Mars. The Augustine panel agreed Mars is the ultimate goal, but said going to the moon first is only one option and not the preferred one. Instead, the panel emphasized what it called a "flexible path" of exploring near-Earth objects such as asteroids, the moons of Mars, and then landing on the moon after other exploration.
"There's a lot of places in the neighborhood," Crawley said. "In fact, going to the moon is more difficult than going to a near-Earth object."
Comment: This was the plot of Armageddon