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No sacred cows in NASA spaceflight review, chairman says

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The chairman of a panel appointed by the Obama administration to take a new look a NASA's human spaceflight program said he plans to lead an independent review that will keep an open mind on the agency's long-term plans, including whether its next-generation rocket plans should be modified or scrapped.

"We're to take a fresh look and go where the facts are and basically call it the way we see it," Norman Augustine, a former chief executive of Lockheed Martin, told reporters on a conference call Friday.

Augustine, who led a major review of the space program in 1990, said the 10-person panel will review a wide range of facets of NASA's human space plan, including the architecture of the next-generation rockets that are currently planned to replace the space shuttle program. NASA has already spent more than $6.9 billion on the Ares and Orion model rockets under the so-called Constellation Program.

Without making any predictions, Augustine said the panel wouldn't hesitate to recommend making changes to those plans if the facts support it.

Other considerations under review included where in space NASA should send astronauts. Augustine said the committee will consider a wide range of missions, including those in the earth's orbit, on the moon, to mars and beyond. He also said the program should be "balanced" between sending both robotic and human cargo, but acknowledged Obama's support of human spaceflight.

The panel will balance a variety of considerations, including costs, scientific benefit, and the feasibility of different missions. It will be taking a fresh look at the contractors NASA uses, as well.

The remaining nine members of the panel have not yet been chosen, but will be people of "different perspectives" such as astronauts and engineers, Augustine said. They plan to hold open meetings and accept public comments. The goal is to have a set of recommendation on Obama's desk by August. ®

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