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Budget Too Small for Space Agency’s Mission

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Presidential advisers will tell the White House this week that the U.S. cannot fly astronauts beyond Earth orbit before 2020 within an Obama administration budget projection that represents a deep cut for NASA.

The agency would need an additional $50 billion to execute the current plan to develop Ares rockets, Orion space capsules and Altair lunar landers for a return to the moon around 2020, panel members said Wednesday.

In a meeting Friday with White House science advisers and budget officials, panel members will say NASA has neither the money nor the technical know-how to fly astronauts on missions to Mars first.

"I really want to emphasize that we are not giving up on Mars at all," said Norman Augustine, chairman of a panel reviewing NASA human spaceflight plans.

"We're just saying that we think to go direct to Mars with today's technology and money is riskier than we would want to be associated with," he said. "It would likely not succeed."

Options the panel will present:

- Extending the life of the International Space Station until at least 2020. Several members said decomissioning the outpost in 2016 - the current plan - does not make sense.

The nation's international partners - Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan - all are opposed to the idea.

International agreements signed in 1998 call for a decade of operations after station assembly is finished. That is set for 2010.

NASA would invest in the development of commercial crew transportation services. Its Ares I rocket would be killed in this case.

- Deep-space exploration: sending astronauts on missions to orbit the moon, near-Earth asteroids and Mars.

An option to "dash" out of low Earth orbit is being dropped because it can't be done within the projected NASA budget: $81.5 billion through 2020, which represents a $26.5 billion cut from previous projections.

In fact, the committee found no viable mission beyond Earth orbit that could be done within NASA's budget.

But the panel will pitch a deep-space program that could be done with an extra $3 billion a year.

"We like very much the deep-space option," said Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin. "It's a doable, viable option. I think that technically and economically, and in terms of the rewards it produces, it's a reasonable step on the way to Mars."

Three heavy-lift launch options will be offered for interplanetary flyby missions: a smaller version of NASA's planned Ares V, a system derived more directly from shuttle components and a super-heavy version of Atlas V or Delta IV rockets.

Two other options still are on the table:

- Extending shuttle fleet operations through 2015 - a scenario that would close an anticipated five-year gap in U.S. human spaceflight.

U.S. commercial or international crew transportation systems would be used to launch astronauts to and from the station, and on the initial legs of exploration missions, after 2015.

A shuttle-derived heavy-lift launcher would be developed to loft cargo for seven- to 14-day human trips to the moon - missions that ultimately would lead to the construction of a lunar outpost.

Cost estimates for this option still are in the works, but it would be more than Obama's budget projection.

- A version of NASA's current Project Constellation that would be stretched out to fit within the projected Obama budget. The scaled-back Constellation would yield a heavy-lift launcher by 2028, but NASA still would not have a lunar lander.

NASA's current plan for Constellation also will be presented to the White House as a "reference" mission - one that could return U.S. astronauts to the moon by October 2021 with a $50 billion budget increase.

All other options push back human expeditions to the moon into the 2020s or in some cases the 2030s.

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