NASA struggles to negotiate budget gauntlet

NASA may not be able to accomplish all the tasks assigned to the agency because its proposed budget is too small, the chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology said this week.

"I'm afraid that NASA is headed for a train wreck if things don't change," Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) told NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin at a hearing this week. "There are certain challenges that NASA is facing as a result of the FY07 Joint Resolution, but the agency's budgetary problems run much deeper."

Gordon said several programs are in trouble due to lack of funds in the proposed 2008 budget.

A $924 million shortfall in funding for the International Space Station crew and cargo services funding needs to be made up, he said.

Funds are needed to address the Space Shuttle program termination and retirement costs beyond 2010. And, there is no funding for the required upgrade of the aging Deep Space Network, even though NASA says it will need to start funding it in fiscal 2009.

Other possible impacts on NASA programs due to lack of funding are:
  • A reduction in the amount of Space Shuttle reserves available to address remaining shuttle program threats during the remaining missions.
  • Almost no funding to initiate the series of new missions recommended by the National Academies' Earth Science Decadal Survey.
  • Deferring a significant amount of research due to be done on the International Space Station and providing no grounds for optimism that the research will be adequately funded prior to NASA's planned withdrawal from the program.
  • An under funding of NASA's aeronautics program.
  • Cuts to NASA's long-term exploration technology program. (Elimination of NASA's lunar robotic program - the precursor program for its human lunar initiative after just one mission has flown.)

"We in Congress have to step back and consider whether the administration's approach to the nation's civil space and aeronautics R&D enterprise is credible and supported by the needed resources," said Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) chairman of the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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