Ten weeks after president Barack Obama's NASA plan cancelled the agency's $4.3 billion Orion crew exploration vehicle, Congressional pressure has forced the head of state to reverse the decision.

Democratic party and Republican politicians have continually attacked Obama's 1 February space budget, which cancelled Orion, its Moon return programme Constellation, retired the Space Shuttle and privatised astronaut space transport.

Members of Congress from states with a special interest in space programmes, such as Florida and Texas, have supported an opposing legislative bill, which provides for continuation of the Shuttle, support for commercial space transport, retention of Orion and development of a heavy-lift rocket akin to Constellation's Ares V cargo launch vehicle. Even under Obama's plans, NASA would have spent over $12 billion by the time all work has ceased on Constellation, due to contractual obligations.

In a statement issued before Obama's decision-reversing speech at Kennedy Space Center on 15 April, the US government's Office of Science and Technology Policy says NASA will develop "a scaled-down variant of the Orion space-capsule... to support crew escape requirements on the International Space Station".

The technology office has confirmed to Flight International that the scaled-down Orion will not transport crew to the International Space Station. Instead, it will be launched unmanned and used only for emergency return. Constellation's Orion was designed to go to the Moon for seven months.

Neither NASA nor the agency's Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin were available for comment.

Source: Flight International