academic environmental studies  
macalester college
 ares rocket  [1]  ares motor [2]  white house[3]

Constellation on the chopping block

What's the big deal?

Background on the Constellation Project

Problems with the program

Time for a change?

Putting the debate in context


References & Links

Comments & questions to:

Background of the Constellation Project
President Bush gives NASA a new vision, with some familiar goals

For a quick overview of what the Constellation Program is all about, check out this program on the NASA site, or watch this video that outlines the agency's goals.

The Columbia disaster, in which the lives of seven crew members were lost along with the shuttle when it disintegrated over Texas during reentry, placed the human spaceflight program in the spotlight in 2003. Strikingly, one of the major criticisms of the program to emerge in the debate following the February tragedy was that NASA lacked a clear mission, and needed “bolder goals to justify the financial and human costs of exploring space” (“Future of Human Spaceflight in Question”). A year after losing the Columbia, President Bush responded with a comprehensive plan that promised to put NASA back on the path of doing missions that advanced scientific research and understanding, rather than allowing it to continue to flounder. His “Vision for U.S. Space Exploration” (pdf) was released in January 2004 and set what the president felt were bold goals for the agency by creating the Constellation Program. The major priorities were to make human spaceflight sustainable and to expand human presence in space – specifically by returning to the Moon by 2020 and beginning preparations for voyages to Mars and other more distant goals, as well as completing the International Space Station. The plan also involved replacing the current fleet of shuttles, which had already been slated for removal in 2010, with new, more advanced spacecraft that would allow astronauts to travel further from Earth’s orbit, and encouraging cooperation both commercially and internationally (“A Renewed Sprit of Discovery”). 

Despite the mentions of promoting commercial involvement in the program, the expansion of NASA’s human spaceflight program is the most important aspect. In the report laying out their strategy and goals, the Bush administration acknowledged the loss of the Challenger and the Columbia as highlighting the risks of human spaceflight, but reaffirmed the importance of the human element of the space program:

"Direct human experience in space has fundamentally altered our perspective of humanity and our place in the universe. Humans have the ability to respond to the unexpected developments inherent in space travel and possess unique skills that enhance discoveries. Just as Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo challenged a generation of Americans, a renewed U.S. space exploration program with a significant human component can inspire us - and our youth - to greater achievements on Earth and in space." (“A Renewed Spirit of Discovery”)

Just sending unmanned missions or telescopes to allow robots and machinery to undertake the exploration would not be enough. NASA’s involvement in human space flight was still key, and this belief was clearly understood and agreed with in Congress. Bush’s proposal was endorsed by the House and the Senate, which adopted the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 and sent the Constellation Program on its way.

Image credits:
[1] [2]

Last updated:  5/7/2010


Macalester College 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105  USA  651-696-6000
Comments and questions to