Budget cuts push back NASA's moon plans
NASA has delayed an ambitious plan to send humans back to the moon in a newly designed spacecraft because of budget constraints, the agency's boss said Wednesday.
The space agency had planned on launching the new craft, called the Orion, in 2014 as part of a long-term goal to establish a permanent moon base by 2020.
But NASA administrator Michael Griffin told a U.S. Senate space subcommittee in Washington the launch would have to be put off until 2015.
"We simply do not have the money available," he said.
The delay is the result of a $545-million US difference between the amount of money President George W. Bush requested for the agency in 2007 and the amount Congress included in a spending bill Bush signed in January.
The agency was given the same amount of money it received in 2006.
The delay will result in an even greater gap between the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2010 and the beginning of the Orion program.
Griffin said the four-year gap in manned space flight in the U.S. could lead to a brain drain to other programs.
"When you don't fly for four or more years, people become stale ... facilities degrade. It's not a good thing," he said. "Our human space flight expertise will be depleted to a certain extent."
While NASA's unmanned space program has had recent successes, such as the Mars Global Surveyor orbiting the Red Planet and the New Horizons probe's successful flyby of Jupiter en route to Pluto, the manned program has been dogged by scandal and delays in the past month.
The most public black eye for the program came in February, when astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested on charges she tried to kidnap and kill a woman she regarded as her rival for another astronaut's affections.
NASA also had to postpone the launch of the Atlantis shuttle to April from Marchafter a hailstorm on Tuesday left up to 2,000 dents on the vehicle's main external fuel tank and left wing.
With files from the Associated Press