There’ve been a lot of stories in the press lately about Constellation and its progress or supposed lack thereof. The alleged danger that the program is in. Could it be that when there’s nothing real to report that people try to stir up old news?
The fact is that Constellation is targeting March 2015 for the first crewed flight to the International Space Station, with Orion aboard the Ares I rocket. That date hasn’t changed for some time. We did originally give our teams a very tough challenge in the early days of the program of making this milestone in September 2013. And they worked hard toward it. But the fact is, we needed more money early on. Given the way budget cycles work, we were given a budget to initial operational capability, but the critical mass we would have needed to make that earlier date just wasn’t there right away.
So we made choices. We continue to make choices. About what to do and when. About sequencing and doing things in parallel that we might ideally do in a different fashion given every dollar we wanted when we wanted it. But who gets that? The reality is that we are very fortunate to have a budget that will enable us to get to a crewed flight in 2015, but we’re going to have to put off some other work until we get the Ares I and Orion system fully designed, tested and flown.
Our budgets are built to accommodate the change and contingency that any development program encounters. We have, after all, not created a new system for spaceflight in over 35 years. It’s an enormous challenge and one that we welcome. There have been varying budget numbers reported in the press. The bottom line is that we had some numbers early on that we used as estimates while the overall architecture we were going to use was still under discussion. Right now we’re targeting $36 billion for Constellation’s cost through initial operational capability. That’s for hardware, the stuff that will actually get us into space. But we also need to budget for the people and ground operations, the upcoming work that must begin on Ares V and early development work on lunar systems. When you add that in, you get to around $44 billion for Constellation through 2015.
But those budgets are still being worked out with the new Administration. In the meantime, America should be proud of the exceptional work by teams across the country for the next generation of space vehicles. We’re working hard on them every single day.