During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said his administration would "support increased investment in research, data analysis and technology development across the full suite of exploration missions including the Mars Sample Return mission and future missions to the moon, asteroids, Lagrange points, the outer solar system and other destinations."
Obama's budget proposes canceling Constellation, the successor system for the space shuttle, and jettisoning the idea of returning astronauts to the moon by 2020. Instead, NASA would allocate billions of dollars to "commercial crew" programs and the development of new technologies, as well as $3 billion over five years to pursue robotic missions "to scout locations and demonstrate technologies to increase the safety and capability of future human missions and provide scientific dividends."
The budget avoids specifics about the ultimate target for human missions; the robotic forays would help determine whether landing humans on Mars is a viable goal. However, the stated possibilities include the moon, Mars, the moons of Mars, Lagrange points (points in space of special scientific interest) and nearby asteroids.
In all, the president's budget would increase budget authority for NASA's exploration directorate from about $3.8 billion in fiscal year 2010 to about $5.2 billion in fiscal year 2015. That works out to an average annual increase of 7 percent -- well above the expected rate of inflation.
As with all elements of the president's budget, nothing is final until Congress passes the relevant appropriations bills and the president signs them. In the case of exploration missions, securing the degree of investment the president wants depends in part on his administration's ability to wring savings from its proposed cancellation of Constellation, whose defenders in Congress could pose an obstacle to the president's broader space agenda. (Some of the money would come from a less controversial source, the end of the space shuttle program.)
That said, the president has not only stated a commitment to further space exploration but has proposed funding levels that outpace inflation. In our view, he has lived up to his promise to "support" such a course. Even though Congress has not yet acted to implement it, we are moving this promise from Stalled to Promise Kept.