back to article Obama scraps Constellation moon mission

President Barack Obama is calling on NASA to cancel its plans to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 and instead focus on developing "building blocks" for future deep space exploration as well as partnerships with private industry. The canned lunar program, called Constellation, "was over budget, behind schedule, and lacking …


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  1. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    The Moon is...

    ...a Harsh Mistress.

    In the book, slinging house sized rocks from the Moon to the Earth is an unstoppable weapon.

    Nonetheless, before everyone that knows how dies off, we should be developing a deep space drive, and sending cute robots to nearby objects.

    In the long run, the survival of our DNA depends on finding a nice M type planet, and getting us (or a DNA library, plus a lab to assemble suitable varieties) transported there.

    1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

      Cute robots

      At this rate, chances are we'll develop some really cute little robots before stardrive...

      cue the future:

      "We don't know who struck first, us or them. But we do know it was us that scorched the sky. etc.."

      SkyNet or whatever. Same difference.

      Ironically, you could still call them our progeny. They'd probably be more hardy and would cope better with space travel and big asteroid impacts. If they can look as hot as Kristanna Loken. then maybe we could die proud as parents.

  2. punkedmonkey

    Oh well...

    ... there is always the Open Source Lunar Mission -

  3. Ian Moffatt 1
    Thumb Down


    One giant leap backwards for mankind

  4. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Instant project reinstatement

    Just wait until the Chinese point anything manned and vaguely rocket-shaped in the general direction of the Moon. The americans will start building spacecraft so fast they could probably just stack 'em nose-to-tail to get there first.

  5. Stinky

    NASA needs to get back to its roots

    NASA used to be a great organization dedicated to science but based upon my experience working at NASA, science took a back seat some time ago. NASA is more akin to the US Postal System with a bunch of people waiting for retirement. NASA has become a bureaucracy where science is solely done by the contractors while NASA employees push power points and spread sheets around at nausea. What I saw with the space station and every NASA program I worked on had a minimum waste of 50%.

    Time for NASA to get back to its roots

  6. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Dont worry

    in 2019 when the NASA near earth object program spots a 1km asteriod heading for us, we can use the heavy lift Ares V rock to lift a 30 tonne Tsar bomb rigged for 120 megatonnes to deflect it.......

    Oh bugger

    Cant understand the reasoning, even if they scrap the manned thingy and rely on people like SpaceX for manned mission, having a damn great rocket than can left 100 tonnes into earth orbit is handy.

    Imagine that..... using 4 of them to build an ISS instead of 50 shuttle missions......

    Still means the bankers will get their taxpayer funded bonuses

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tragic, but..

    "The cancellation of the Constellation program and the end of human space flight does represent change"

    Wow, that's some incredible arrogance. Presumably folks from outside the US of A aren't humans then? I think the Russians might have something to say about that, and I think they'll carry on merrily without you. Stick your thumb out and you might bum a lift off them tho.

  8. wsm
    Thumb Down


    What budget? Washington has a budget? Who knew? In Washington, money is an abstract concept having something to do with obtaining votes through indulgences and thereby having the ability to keep spending...more money.

  9. Stone Fox
    Thumb Up

    is this such a bad thing?

    Correct me if I'm wrong but robotic exploration is going to be cheaper and easier to build without all the complicated life support needed to transport humans.

    Robotic probes / asteroid mining craft will be able to operate far beyond where we'd be able to send people as there's no requirements for food, water and air stores (which I suspect are the real range / operation time limits)

    They should be capable of doing just about anything a human crew will do, and to be honest, do we need people going any distance if we're not sending them to another system with an M type planet?

    1. Yannick
      Thumb Up


      Totally agree with your post, about time they scrapped that money wasting stupid idea and focus on the ISS, robot exploration and satellite observation. I'm not against human space travel, but in our current economic climate, it's just non-sense.

    2. SilverWave

      Agreed Human Space Flight is not practical with present Tech past LEO

      The "Mars Exploration Rover" and the Cassini–Huygens missions are examples of the right way to do space exploration.

      Given the tech limits at present its just not practical.

      Which is a shame but you cant argue with physics :(

      The best idea I have seem is to stick to one launch vehicle

      and having a big enough production run.

      If Boeing had a production run of 30 of a new type of plane the price per plane would be ridiculous.

      Same with rockets if you had a run of 3000 then things

      would look a lot better.

    3. Andus McCoatThen

      Re: Is this such a bad thing?

      I don't disagree about the limitations of human spaceflight you make, and the reality is nobody wants to be the one sending up the first person to die in outer space and not be brought back for a proper burial... Or be that first victim.

      But at the same time, there are observation opportunities that really should be seen by human eyes directly. The application of reason and experience in directly evaluating a situation or environment is much more effective than trying to do the same through the glass and wireless transmissions of a remote camera with limited perceptive ability.

      BTW: Hello Star Trek fan, Stone Fox. You gave yourself away with the M-type planet. Earth-class planets are only known as Class M because of Star Trek, and defined as "Minchara Class" by the Vulcans during the film First Contact.

      Yea, I'm a Star Trek geek. Mines the one with the DATA PADD that looks suspiciously like a recent Apple product in the pocket.

      1. Stone Fox


        Strangely, I detest star trek.

        I've seen one or two of the movies and a couple of episodes but the episodes put me right off.

        Not sure where I picked up the M class planet thing, although if memory serves me it was in some sci-fi film (other than star trek) where someone says that something (I believe an escape pod) was programed to head for the nearest M class planet.

  10. Adam Salisbury

    Better done right than quick

    While I'd love to see us heading back to the Moon and beyond I'm not in the least bit sorry to see the back of a program that resurrected the use of throwaway rockets, THAT was the real backward step for NASA. IMHO once you've built a shuttle fleet no sane man should go back to the far more expensive and environmentally destructive predecessor. At least some of that squandered $9bn should've gone toward a new reusable vehicle.

  11. Monkeywrench

    Wonder if the Chinese....

    ...will be extending job offers to all of the soon to unemployed 'rocket scientists'?

  12. E 2

    @Pete 2

    Except of course China has industrial capacity to rival the USA and China holds enough USA foreign debt to cause a default on the USA dollar. So it is not really like back in the good old days of Apollo - the USSR had no whip hand over the USA.

    Not so exceptional any more.

  13. E 2


    No argument here, Stinky, about NASA.

    But you would need a revolution and a lot of CEO/CIO/CTO/ congressperson/senator/id-level-mgmt/bottom-end-mgmt heads on pikes before you root out the bureaucratic mentality that has infested the USA, the UK, Canada, the rest of the west.

    It is not just a NASA thing, it is a systemic thing,

    Everybody just wants a box of chocolates these days.

  14. Adam White

    Private companies to ferry astronauts...

    ...using Russian government sub contractors?

    1. ravenviz Silver badge

      Failure rate

      Somehow NASA can get away with failure within the context of exploration for the good of humanity. Since the chances of dying in a shuttle mission is about 1 in a 100, can we expect the same levels of risk for commercial space travel? All the money NASA has spent over the years on trying to get it right and the failure rate is comparitively very high compared to other modes of transport (although not to space!). So if this is handed over to commercial enterprise, will the dollar spending public or indeed regulating authorities allow such a high failure rate? What procedures / infrastructure will need to be in place to reduce the risk to 1 in 1,000, 1 in 1,000,000. If NASA could not do it with their extensive infrastructure and available money, I fail to see how private enterrpise is going to have any chance at making human space flight even reasonably safe, and, by natural conclusion even possible.

  15. Keith T
    Thumb Up

    US moon mission as useless as UK aircraft carriers

    NASA's Constellation moon mission is about as useless scientifically as UK aircraft carriers, Romania's presidential palace.

    Those are all big glossy expensive expenditures that supposedly boost the country's status, but which actually reduce its status by impoverishing it.

    The moon does hold secrets, but I don't believe searching for those secrets is worth the money.

    And we aren't going to build interstellar spaceships on the moon now that the ISS has proven we can construct them in orbit.

    Much better to spend taxpayers hard earned dollars on:

    1. Monitoring the earth's environment so we can one day accurately predict the weather more than 2 days in advance. Imagine the increase productivity of the world's farms if we could predict weather conditions far enough ahead that farmers could plant the optimum crop. Also imagine the savings in road maintenance, and road and ocean transportation costs if we could predict the weather one month ahead.

    2. All the proposed remedies to global warming are very expensive. So more importantly, we need to know whether global warming is actually occurring, what its cause is, and whether anything we do in the future to affect it is actually working.

    3. Greater scientific knowledge can be obtained by robotic exploration than manned exploration because robotic exploration is so much cheaper and delivers so much more bang for the buck.

    However, as one of the other posters pointed out, let China start reaching for the moon and the USA will quickly react by building a US base on the moon.

    Bipartisanship is dead in the US congress as far as saving the lives of US citizens through better healthcare, or keeping US families together by reducing unemployment. But one topic US congress is always united on is increased military spending.

  16. cosmo the enlightened

    Hang on

    $9 billion dollars already spent on R&D???

    Surley some mistake.

    All it would take would be a couple of sound stages, some SGI effects and hush money to all who take part.

    Just like last time.

    No more than $100 million tops.

  17. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD


    "As much as we would not like it to be the case, and taking nothing away from the hard work and dedication of our team, the truth is that we were not on a path to get back to the moon's surface," he said. "And as we focused so much of our effort and funding on just getting back to the Moon, we were neglecting investments in key technologies that would be required to go beyond."


    I'd like you to tell babies not to learn to crawl because it would be a waste of time, and instead concentrate on gymnastics or figure skating.

    Of course, I could be missing something. Maybe they've actually got a UFO in Area 51 with warp drive or something. Maybe they've encountered the Vulcans.

  18. Saopaulo101

    epic fail

    If you added up all the money from failed or cancelled NASA shuttle "replacements" you could probably get to mars and back and still have enough left over for a sizable city on the moon.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Sad ....

    ... one of the few inspiring projects for people of all ages. They should have pumped money into it to kick-start the US economy .....

  20. GettinSadda

    Next step?

    Surely now the USA has pretty much abandoned the idea of men on the moon, some other country such as China should launch some robot missions to knock over the flags placed by the Apollo missions. America claimed the moon - but have given it up again.

    1. 1of10


      "...knock over the flags placed by the Apollo missions..."

      what flag? those flags added in recording studio? I reckon the Chinese wouldn't find any... if they really existed then are probably all rotten by moon bugs...

      yeah China... go... go... go... but not in the studio please. :)

      PS: I'm sorry i couldn't stop :)

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Politician complains local cash cow will be put down

    Shuttle, either as NASA staff or through its contractor USA employs about 5-6000 at an estimated full cost (including all their benefits) of between 128 and 250k$/PA. Roughly $640m, *regardless* of how many Shuttle flights are made.

    This is what motivates Congress persons and Senators to go to the mat to fight for a space programme, *any* space programme, going *anywhere*, as long as money is being spent.

    This is the paradox. Without creating *so* many jobs they would not give a damm. However it is the *huge* size of this army which is *the* major cause of high operating costs in the first place.

    It takes, IIRC, about 400 staff to support an airline flight. While it is true the Shuttle flies a more complex mission (0-M23_0 as opposed to airliners less than M1) with more engines (about 44 in total with 4 different propellants) and some unique systems (TPS, Fuel cells) is it *really* 12.5x more complex?

    Mines the one with a copy of "The SSX" in the pocket.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Since you asked

      'While it is true the Shuttle flies a more complex mission (0-M23_0 as opposed to airliners less than M1) with more engines (about 44 in total with 4 different propellants) and some unique systems (TPS, Fuel cells) is it *really* 12.5x more complex?'



  22. AlistairJ

    Welcome, etc

    Let me be the first to say that I for one would welcome this outbreak of sensible planning from our space-faring overlords.

    The pathetic attempt by the previous administration to recreate the golden age of Apollo programme without even understanding why or how that was such a success, or even funding it properly, had to fail sooner or later. Just another example of how Obama is having to spend his time cleaning up their mess.

  23. AndrueC Silver badge

    Not so bad really

    I've been a life long exponent of space exploration but TBH I think this is a good idea. Project Constellation /was/ lacking in technical innovation. It was basically just a bigger version of the Apollo missions. Okay so that's denigrated what was probably a difficult undertaking but still - 40 years on and all they were doing was taking some extra wheight?

    Nah. That project was just the brain child of President Bush and was just showy fluff.

    I think they now have the opportunity to walk before they try to run. They can build on the success of the ISS rather than shutting it down prematurely. They can encourage private enterprise to get into space thereby freeing us from the tyranny and vaguaries of government.

    So I think we're looking at a decade of retrenchment and increased R&D which would could see Humanity far better placed to go for The Moon or Mars.

  24. Eponymous Cowherd


    Wait for the massive 'U' turn when China goes for a moon mission.....

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    was overpriced anyway

    Couldn't they have converted an old hot water cylinder and some showers heads for about £50 ?

  26. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    China HAS a moon mission.

    And Jon Stewart on THE DAILY SHOW GLOBAL EDITION made the joke about knocking over or stealing the American flags on the moon. Previously he compared leaving a flag and a a broken-down car car on the moon to the state of a typical redneck front yard.

    And Europe has a respectable space programme too.

    And aren't Class M planets out of Star Trek?

    And the laws of physics haven't changed in our favour since the 1960s. "Our" being science fiction fans.

  27. Stanislav

    Best way forward

    Let's just hope NASA gets a kick up the backside and spends the new money on space research rather than administration.

    Constellation would have been a gross waste of time. Apollo, despite being an utter triumph in many important ways, was essentially a dead end. The objective was to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth. Well, they did that. Brilliantly. And learned a lot about spaceflight along the way. But then they retreated to low Earth orbit with the Shuttle at a time when simply getting stuff into space cheaply & reliably was a major objective. Well, now there are a number of ways of getting stuff into space and I would guess that the Shuttle is one of the more expensive ones. NASA needs a new objective. Doing Apollo again (but bigger) with Constellation should never have been it.

    Thanks to the ISS, NASA now has extensive experience of assembling very large structures in orbit. It might make sense to build on that knowledge and see if it's feasible to assemble an interplanetary craft up there. Far fetched, possibly, but that's the sort of ambition they should have. Let the commercial sector do the ferrying to orbit. You just don't need government money to do that any more.

    1. Fred Mbogo

      Mass Driver?

      Seriously. Chemical rockets to brute force space travel is idiotic. Its environmentally unfriendly, its inefficient and wasteful.

      I think its time world leaders stopped living in the 19th century and started embracing nuclear power. Our friend the atom can provide almost everything we need. Power, transportation and even a limited amount of protection. Who the hell thinks using coal power plants is a good idea?

      Why not make a vacuum, mass driver using superconducting electromagnets?

      Or revive project Daedalus, Orion? Use those stupid nukes for something useful for a change. They don't have the chutzpah to use them for their intended purpose anymore.

      Science, these days is toothless. Instead of doing anything interesting we get the Large Hadron Collider, a contraption that spends more time down than some itinerants from the red light district.

      Mine's the one with the cowboy hat and the gravity nuclear bomb strapped on the back.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Doing the homework first

        "Science, these days is toothless. Instead of doing anything interesting we get the Large Hadron Collider, a contraption that spends more time down than some itinerants from the red light district."

        Titter, titter, eh? Apart from the theory work being explored by the LHC, the engineering provides plenty of lessons that need to be learned if you're going to be doing stuff like Daedalus properly - stuff like Orion and "dropping nukes out the back" is just horsing around and saying that "we know that it makes a big bang, let's let one off behind us", not to mention probably not the most efficient way of providing a propulsion source of that nature.

        Indeed, a lot of the CERN stuff is quite extreme engineering and it's probably only somewhat coincidental that their big experiments remind people of the manned space programme. Although "wags" will titter at stuff like coolant leakage, it has to be remembered that the US-led SSC programme failed in part because the technology just wasn't there in the 1980s and early 1990s to do what is only just possible with the LHC now.

        Toothless science? There's a lot more interesting science being done these days than can be imagined up by the lesser science fiction authors quoted all too much by readers of this site.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    A space programme that might deliver something

    It's refreshing to see an attempt to make NASA live within its means, instead of always funding projects which would only happen if Congress suddenly turned round and agreed to massively increase funding. Constellation was nothing but Bush-era flag-waving, politics to keep people in NASA-related industries in jobs, even though the Moon was an unachievable goal, let alone Mars.

    What Obama has also done is push international cooperation in manned spaceflight, which is the only way humanity will ever get anywhere beyond Earth orbit for more than flag-waving exercises. International cooperation is anathema to the neocons, and to their counterparts in Russia and China. Fortunately, as the ISS has shown, once the ball is rolling the scientists and engineers tend to just get on with working out how to do the thing with what they've got, while the bullshitters and demagogues continue to spout their only real product, hot air.

  29. The lone lurker


    I read somewhere that after the moon landings there was an Apollo Application Programme that had designs to send men to venus and mars on the same mission using a modified S-IVB as living space. If this had happened we would have got there sometime around 1985! Brilliant and daring stuff but it was all but canceled even before the landings were completed.

    1. 1of10


      "...Apollo Application Programme that had designs to send men to venus..."

      They shelf that mission coz wasn't that hard... they found that most men went to venus every single day without leaving this planet. :)

      But good luck landing on venus planet...if they had attempted they wouldn’t last more than few minutes and probably wouldn't even survive the descent to the superfice..

      Too much acid and extremely dense atmosphere with pressure’s surface near 100 times Earth’s… so you can imagine why they forgot the matter of sending men to venus... where more secure leaving the men alone with earthling venus. :)

      1. Anonymous Coward


        "But good luck landing on venus planet"

        It was a *flyby* not a landing:

        An interesting idea, certainly, although perhaps less compelling given the various robotic missions to Venus:

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Yep they existed and got to quite an advanced stage, but Apollo was gutted when the Vietnam war and inflation began to eat the American economy for breakfast. By the end of the 1960s NASA could essentially have the Shuttle and that was it.

  30. Yorkshirepudding

    Boldly going nowhere

    you hear that? its the collective laughter of all the other races in the universe laughing at us (those that understand humour)

    if not how are we supposed to defend agaisnt zargon invasion fleets!!!

  31. Keith Oborn
    Thumb Up

    The right choice, not the exciting one

    Apollo was perhaps the most remarkable achievement in human history - certainly the most remarkable example of "JFDI" engineering chutzpah. But it was not part of a sustainable effort.

    The Shuttle, despite the huge politically-imposed design flaws and resultant cost excesses, has been remarkably successful - and that includes the two losses. Two accidents out of that many missions for what is still, at best, an early beta transportation system at the edge of technology. The very fact that the orbiters continue to fly after so many years is remarkable.

    Constellation, however, was just a reinvention of the (Saturn/Apollo) wheel, with a bit more structure and long term planning - but basically, old stuff.

    If the object is *sustained* human expansion into space, then neither the US, nor humanity, can afford grandstanding projects. Space travel must become routine, and that means taking it step by step. Delivery of humans to earth orbit is ripe for commercialisation: after all, delivery of unmanned cargoes to earth orbit was commercialised quite a while ago, albeit that the commercial operators tend to be quangos like Ariane so far.

    Air travel didn't become successful until it stopped being exciting.

    I would love to see us return to the moon in my lifetime. I'd love to go there myself. But the best chance we have of doing it is to do it a bit more slowly, sustainably, and with solid scientific and commercial aims in mind.

    In the meantime, NASA is still doing marvelous things: the Mars rovers and Cassini for instance, and don't forget the Voyagers and Pioneers.

  32. Graham Bartlett

    @Adam Salisbury

    Want "throwaway rockets"? I give you .... The Space Shuttle!

    Booster rockets? Throwaway. Main tank? Throwaway. Every piece of heat-shielding? Throwaway. Entire structure? Not quite throwaway, but requires *significant* rebuilding after every mission.

    The Space Shuttle is the flying equivalent of a vintage car. It's under-spec compared to what can be done today. It's unreliable. And it costs more to keep welding things together than it would to buy a new Toyota equivalent. Sure it looks nice, but by any other measure it sucks big-time.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @Graham Bartlett

      "Booster rockets? Throwaway. "

      Wrong. The SRBs are recoverable down range and can (and on occaision have) been refurbished.

      "Main tank? Throwaway. "

      Quite true. It's 56K lb of aluminum lithium alloy which gets about 99% of the way to orbital velocity before being dumped. If a Shuttle flight were not operating at its *extreme* weight limit it would probably possible to put this in orbit as well.

      "Every piece of heat-shielding? Throwaway. "

      The R in RSI (the tiles) stands for "Reusable." Surface damage on the tile and blankets (tiles are mostly on the underside. The top has not needed tiles for the last 20+ years) is normally (IIRC) <5% of the total.

      Entire structure? Not quite throwaway, but requires *significant* rebuilding after every mission."

      An entirely expendable structure would make the shuttle an Expendable Launch Vehicle, rather than a Reusuable Launch Vehicle. In fact it's more accurate to call it a Refurbishable Launch Vehicle.

      The trouble is that behind *any* design is a *huge* aero/thermo/chemica/structural database related to *that* design. Most of those factor being interlinked at somewhere on the range 0-M23-0. If you go with something else which has *not* been done before you have to recreate that DB from *scratch*. Hence Apollo was the obvious shape to copy.

      Shuttle is *not* cheaper to operate than expendables. Most of its structure is *not* expendable either.

      Mine's the one with the Shuttle Reference Manul PDF loaded in the ebook reader.

    2. Daniel B.

      And yet...

      the Space Shuttle still had some reuseable parts. Constellation was basically stepping backwards and using the shitty 60's tech "just bigger". They didn't even try to do something like the DynoSoar or any similar reuseable spaceplane.

      Hell, they even ignored DIRECT, which had a lower cost than the Ares thingies they've just cancelled.

      At least I hope that this means NASA will actually work in a real spaceship instead of "use once and discard" toys.

  33. The lone lurker


    You're absolutely right, the AAP Missions were intended to be flyby missions lasting several years. Still better than anything we've done since '72!

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Kind of sad

    but its just too expensive to go back to the moon right now. And the robots have been doing a much better and more inspiring job of exploration for the last 30 years.

    Also, NASA should be freeing up budget to look for those nasty comets and asteroids that over time are a serious threat to humanity's survival.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Meanwhile on Wall Street

    The banks that got us into this mess will be paying out $118 billion in bonuses.

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