According to a January 2, 2014 story in the Houston Chronicle, former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver proposed that the space agency’s heavy lift Space Launch System be cancelled. She made this statement on NPR’s Diana Rehm Show.
“The SLS. It was something that Congress dictated to NASA, it had to do with the Orion spacecraft. It is a holdover from Constellation, which the Obama administration tried to cancel, and it’s $3 billion a year of NASA’s $17 billion. Is that how you would be investing in the space program? Where is it going to go? When will it even fly?”
According to NASA, which Garver was recently second in command of, the answer to the last two questions are (a) in 2017 and (b) to send astronauts to an asteroid in 2021, at least according to Obama administration policy. The answer to the first question depends on how one views human space exploration.
The story of the Space Launch System started when the Obama administration abruptly cancelled the Constellation space exploration program, blindsiding many members of Congress which had supported the effort to land people on the lunar surface by 2020. In order to salvage as much as possible from what the Obama administration had casually destroyed, Congress mandated the development of the Orion space craft and the SLS, the latter of which was suggested in the Augustine Report that had preceded Obama’s cancellation of Constellation. Eventually the president proposed launching astronauts to an Earth approaching asteroid, a program that has not exactly caught fire either in Congress or in the scientific and aerospace communities. Many in Congress view the moon as still an imperative first destination for human space exploration.
The cancellation of the SLS, unlikely in the current political climate, would mean the end of any hope of sending American astronauts beyond low Earth orbit for the foreseeable future. With the SLS, which is actually proceeding on time and on budget, there is at least a chance of that happening.