The Washington Times - February 2, 2010, 01:38AM

Government funds that would help return America to the moon were eliminated in the White House’s proposed 2011 budget. The budget reveals that the Obama administration has scrapped the Constellation program started by President Bush in 2004. The program was meant to take us back to the moon by 2020. President Obama’s new budget calls for investing about $6 billion over five years to create commercial rockets that would send astronauts into Earth’s low orbit.

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“Let’s hope the commercial rockets work, but what I want to do is keep the research going on the Ares 1 test vehicle in order to build a heavy-lift vehicle,” Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, told The Washington Times. Mr. Nelson is also chairman of the Senate subcommittee on space. “Now the problem is the path that we were on. The rocket wasn’t going to be ready until 2018, so the administration had to try something new, but it’s a choice between two bad choices.”

The Ares 1 is the launch vehicle meant for the Constellation program, and the Ares 5 is the next-generation launch vehicle meant to send unmanned payloads to Earth orbit. Mr. Nelson described his support for the continued research of the Ares 5.

“What some people are calling the Ares 5 would allow us to get out of low Earth orbit, go to the moon, go to an asteroid, go to a moon of Mars, but I think we’re going to have a fight with the White House,” he said.

A former space shuttle astronaut himself, Mr. Nelson told the Washington Times he had serious concerns about the elimination of the lunar program from the budget, saying, “We’re putting all of our eggs in the basket that the commercial operators building a brand-new rocket from scratch are going to be successful, not only for cargo to get to the space station but human-rated to get our astronauts to the space station.”

According to Space News, killing the space programs relating to manned exploration will be a heavy cost in and of itself:

“Constellation and its three early elements — the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, its Ares 1 launcher and the Ares 5 heavy-lift rocket — is expected to cost NASA about $2.5 billion in contract termination penalties and other program-closeout-related expenses, according to NASA budget documents.”

It appears Mr. Nelson is ready to take on the administration and demand research-and-development programs to modernize the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, saying he will be willing to “hold the White House’s feet to the fire” over the issue.

“The president proposes and the Congress disposes. We’re the ones that have got to authorize the funding and also appropriate the money,” Mr. Nelson said.

“You have to do both,” he said when asked about the White House’s desire to change the direction of NASAs projects to more earthly work such as monitoring climate change. “NASA is this great agency that can do this wonderful scientific experiments and scientific measurements, particularly of planet Earth. How are we changing? This is a unique role that NASA can do and it should do.”