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Planning for the Future of Space Exploration

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - President Barack Obama will direct NASA to extend space station operations through 2020 and strive to rally global partners with a call to send astronauts on international expeditions throughout the inner solar system.

The nation's shuttle fleet will be retired after International Space Station assembly is complete, and NASA will invest in commercial means of launching cargo, and ultimately astronauts, to the outpost.

NASA's budget will get a billion-dollar bump. The development of a Saturn V-class heavy-lift rocket will become a priority, and test flights will be stepped up at Kennedy Space Center to stem anticipated job losses.

Those are among the likely outcomes when the Obama administration delivers its 2011 budget request to Congress on Feb. 1.

"I think (Obama) is going to take us exploring. I think he's going to take us beyond low Earth orbit. And he's going to allow us to develop an architecture that can go anywhere," said KSC Director Robert Cabana.

After Obama unveils his vision, the haggling will begin. Legislation requiring congressional approval to change NASA's existing exploration program already is in place.

"The release of the president's budget will be the beginning of that conversation back and forth," said NASA Project Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley. "And that will go on through the appropriations process for obtaining a 2011 budget," Hanley said.

Among highlights to look for:

- NASA's budget will be increased.

A White House review panel found NASA's budget would need to be boosted by about $3 billion a year to conduct a "meaningful" human spaceflight program. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, personally lobbied Obama for at least $1 billion in leftover stimulus money, and it appears Congress supports an increase.

- International Space Station operations will be extended through 2020.

After 11 years and $55 billion in U.S. funding, station construction is almost complete. The crew size doubled to six in 2009, boosting the amount of research that can be done at the outpost.

Funding for station operations runs out in 2015. The White House review panel and Congress both favor an extension.

- NASA's shuttle program will not be extended.

The White House review panel left open the option of flying shuttles through 2015 to minimize the gap between shuttle retirement and the first flights of successor craft.

Nelson, a top Obama space adviser, said an extension is unlikely: "I don't think that is being considered in the high councils of NASA and the White House."

Shuttle factories have shut down, so there would be a significant gap - two to three years - between the last scheduled shuttle mission and flights added to the manifest.

NASA could not afford to operate the shuttle and simultaneously develop next-generation spacecraft.

"I have to say with great reluctance that it's going to be a situation where we move on to a different program and a new phase in space exploration," Kosmas said.

- NASA will speed up development of a heavy-lift rocket.

NASA will accelerate the development of a Saturn V-class rocket that will enable missions beyond low Earth orbit.

At the same time, NASA plans to add annual flight tests at KSC - similar to the Ares I-X last October -beginning in 2012.

The dual purpose will be to maintain a core of critically skilled workers while developing key components, such as a five-segment solid rocket motor and an upper-stage engine, for the heavy-lift launcher.

About 7,000 KSC jobs are expected to be lost due to the space shuttle's retirement.

- NASA will lead international expeditions into interplanetary space.

A clarion call will go out for international partners to come together and put in place plans for missions beyond Earth orbit.

"I think there is going to be a generalized commitment to exploration, and a call for the international community to work together over the next couple of years to develop the global plan for the division of labor and division of costs," Logsdon said.

The proclamation would be "somewhat akin to Ronald Reagan's call in the State of the Union in 1984 for our friends and allies to join the space station," he said.

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