Under the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, H.R. 3288, Congress inserted a clause in the language of the FY2010 NASA funding bill that would prevent President Obama from terminating the Constellation program without Congressional approval. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida was the main sponsor of the clause in the Senate version.
The Constellation Project is NASA's new human exploration program that is building and developing the Ares I and Ares V launchers along with Orion, crewed spacecraft, and Altair, the moon lander. The program established and funded by Congress in toward the end of 2005 has been beset by funding shortfalls and the resultant technical problems.
A presidential panel, Review of Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, headed by Norman Augustine was established last May to review the United States human spaceflight program and provide a set of options for President Obama to pursue. Among the findings of the report, the panel found that the Constellation program was technically feasible and executable given the appropriate amount of funding that had been promised under the Vision for Space Exploration. The major finding of the report concluded that that if the United States goal was to expand human presence beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) then NASA was woefully underfunded. The first two options while based on NASA's current budget would not lead to human space exploration beyond LEO. All the other options in the report would require NASA's budget to be increased by at least $3 billion.
Though NASA's budget and direction has been a low priority for President Obama with the attention to major issues like healthcare, Afghanistan, and the economy, the Constellation program and NASA could have a significant impact on the electoral landscape in Florida, a state crucial to President Obama's election in 2008 where NASA and the space industry are a major source of revenue for Florida's economy. Given the large bipartisan backing of Constellation program from such states as Florida, Texas, California, and Ohio, there is a strong possibility that President Obama may seek to bolster and continue the NASA's current program in order to retain support among those states' Democrats for his reelection in 2012.
Recently, the Ares I has been garnering a great deal of media attention. Time Magazine named Ares I the Best Invention of 2009. NASA launched the Ares 1-X at the end of October as the video below shows.