By ANDY PASZTOR
The White House has decided to begin funding private companies to carry NASA astronauts into space, but the proposal faces major political and budget hurdles, according to people familiar with the matter.
The controversial proposal, expected to be included in the Obama administration's next budget, would open a new chapter in the U.S. space program. The goal is to set up a multiyear, multi-billion-dollar initiative allowing private firms, including some start-ups, to compete to build and operate spacecraft capable of ferrying U.S. astronauts into orbit—and eventually deeper into the solar system.
Congress is likely to challenge the concept's safety and may balk at shifting dollars from existing National Aeronautics and Space Administration programs already hurting for funding to the new initiative. The White House's ultimate commitment to the initiative is murky, according to these people, because the budget isn't expected to outline a clear, long-term funding plan. The White House's NASA budget also envisions stepped-up support for climate-monitoring and environmental projects, along with enhanced international cooperation across both manned and unmanned programs.
Press officials for NASA and the White House have declined to comment.
In the words of Jello biafra, "