The Science magazine blog is quoting unnamed sources who say that Obama, after a meeting with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, has pledged $1 billion to NASA in 2011 to work on a heavy lift rocket to take astronauts to the Moon and Mars. If this is true, that's very interesting news indeed. I'll stress that I personally look at this as unconfirmed leaked info, so take it with a grain of salt. Science is saying it'll be announced officially as early as next week, or as late as the State of the Union address in January. If it is true, it comes on top of a more than $900 million bump by Congress for next year (which is official). The report is unclear about some things, like what happens to the Constellation program to build Ares rockets. A lot of people in the space business (but outside of NASA) say the Ares 1-X test recently amounted to little more than fraud. Buzz Aldrin is one of them (note: Link to Huffington Post). I have heard the same from the Space Frontier Foundation as well. Dropping Ares-1, as Science is reporting might happen, is maybe not a bad thing. But what about the next generation rocket, the Ares V? That's not mentioned, but I would expect that would be ditched too. Here's the money shot:
According to knowledgeable sources, the White House is convinced that scarce NASA funds would be better spent on a simpler heavy-lift vehicle that could be ready to fly as early as 2018. Meanwhile, European countries, Japan, and Canada would be asked to work on a lunar lander and modules for a moon base, saving the U.S. several billion dollars. And commercial companies would take over the job of getting supplies to the international space station.
I suspect this would be very good news indeed. Still and all, I note two things: 1) private companies still have not put much into orbit, so it's premature to know how well they will do (though I have very high hopes, especially for SpaceX), and 2) just to reinforce this, this story is not yet confirmed. So my take on this is wait and see. I have my opinions about space travel, but I lack the experience in this field to know specifically what is best for NASA and what is best for space exploration. I'll be very interested to hear what others in the business have to say.