Astronauts back Constellation

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Sixteen former astronauts have signed a joint statement in support of NASA's Moon return Constellation programme.

The programme is under threat of cancellation by US president Barack Obama. The Review of US human spaceflight plans committee report, due to be delivered to the Obama administration's technology office by 30 August, will outline a range of options, including some which include neither Constellation nor the spacecraft and rockets being developed for its Moon missions.

Many of the former astronauts are not independent of Constellation. Some work for or have worked for the programme's contractors. Of the 16 astronauts, Charlie Precourt is crew launch vehicle (CLV) first-stage solid rocket booster manager for Alliant Techsystems (ATK), the Ares I CLV contractor; Scott Horowitz has worked for Alliant; Brian Duffy is Lockheed Martin's Altair lunar lander manager; and, from this month, Pam Melroy is director and deputy programme manager of Lockheed's space exploration initiatives programme office.

In the joint statement, provided by ATK, the former astronauts say: "Our top concern...is to ensure the safest possible system is utilised. This requires a proven track record, building on important lessons learned...NASA's Constellation programme is exactly that type of effort - infused with generational lessons learned."

Reports in US media highlight unnamed astronauts' concerns about programme safety, although NASA's astronaut office has rejected the claims.

On 27 August ATK is to test fire the "demonstration motor one" for the CLV's five-segment solid rocket booster first stage. The Space Shuttle uses four segment solid rocket boosters.