Reporting from Washington and Cape Canaveral, Fla. — NASA's plans to return astronauts to the moon are dead. So are the rockets being designed to take them there, if President Obama gets his way.
When the White House releases its budget proposal Monday, there will be no money for the Constellation program that was to return humans to the moon by 2020. The Ares I rocket that was to replace the space shuttle to ferry humans to space will be gone, along with money for the Ares V cargo rocket that was to launch the fuel and supplies needed to return to the moon. There will be no lunar landers, no moon bases.
"We certainly don't need to go back to the moon," one administration official said.
Instead, according to White House insiders, agency officials, industry executives and congressional sources familiar with Obama's plans, NASA will look at developing a "heavy-lift" rocket that one day will take humans and robots to explore beyond low-Earth orbit. That day will be years away.
The White House will direct NASA to concentrate on Earth-science projects -- principally, researching and monitoring climate change -- and on a new technology research and development program designed to someday enable human exploration of asteroids and the inner solar system.
Everyone interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity, either because they are not authorized to speak for the White House or because they fear for their jobs. All are familiar with the broad sweep of Obama's budget proposal, but none would talk about specific numbers because these are being tightly held by the White House until the release of the budget.
But senior administration officials say the president's proposed spending freeze for some federal agencies is not going to apply to the space agency in this budget. Officials said NASA expected to see some "modest" increase in its current $18.7-billion annual budget -- possibly $200 million to $300 million, but far less than the $1-billion boost agency officials had hoped for.
They also said that the White House planned to extend the life of the International Space Station to at least 2020.