President Obama has ordered a full review of NASA's manned space exploration programs.
Even as the new Star Trek movie rekindles interest in space travel and the possibility of extraterrestrial life, NASA's voyages into the cosmos may fall victim to a more earthly reality -- multibillion-dollar budget deficits fueled by bailouts to the banks and automakers.
President Obama on Thursday ordered a full review of the Ares and Orion program, under which the space agency is building a rocket and crew capsule designed to replace the aging shuttle fleet and carry humans deeper into space.
Obama tapped former aerospace executive Norman Augustine to lead a blue-ribbon panel of experts that will review NASA's goals and related funding requirements. Augustine, who also served on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, said the review won't be easy.
"I am excited about working with my fellow panel members to examine these difficult and complex questions," said Augustine, in a statement.
"I am a real believer in the value of this nation's human spaceflight activities and will do everything I can to provide the information needed to help the country maintain the spectacular arc of progress NASA has fueled for five decades."
The Ares and Orion program was born of former President George W. Bush's "Vision for Space Exploration" blueprint. The Ares and Orion vehicles were scheduled to come online in 2014. Work will continue on the program while the review is ongoing, NASA said.
Meanwhile, the agency said it received a 5% increase in funding, to $18.69 billion, for the fiscal year 2010. The funding will cover a range of activities, including work to complete the International Space Station, exploration of the solar system, and aeronautics research.
"With this budget NASA is able to support a balanced portfolio of priorities," said acting NASA administrator Christopher Scolese.