President-elect Barack Obama may put NASA to work with the Defense Department to better compete in space.
Unidentified sources tell Bloomberg News that Obama may tap Defense rockets for space travel because they may be cheaper and available before NASA's new Orion crew capsule and boosters, which won't be ready until 2015. The current shuttle fleet is scheduled to be retired next year, though some, such as the Center for American Progress (CAP), have advocated extending their use until a replacement is ready.
Obama has alluded to using Defense money for the space program, and has said he would like to close the five-year gap between the current fleet's retirement and the completion of Orion. Pentagon boosters have been suggested as a way to speed up the Orion program to more quickly replace the shuttle — and possibly avoid the cost of developing a new booster.
Previously, Obama has asked NASA about whether canceling the Ares 1 rocket that is currently being designed to carry the Orion spacecraft into Earth orbit would be worth the cost savings—a move NASA chief Michael Griffin opposes.
When combined with keeping the shuttle flying, using Defense rockets would minimize or close the five-year window when the U.S. has no manned access to space except via Russian transportation.
"The NASA review team is just asking questions; no decisions have been made," Obama transition spokesperson Nick Shapiro told Bloomberg News.
Image of Orion/Lockheed Martin Corp. via NASA