NASA budget concerns (part 2)

While there was some confusion about the time, location, and even existence of a House Appropriations Committee subcommittee hearing on NASA’s budget, the hearing did in fact occur. NASA released the opening remarks by Sean O’Keefe in that hearing, but the bigger news was the concern raised by leading committee members about the budget. Subcommittee chairman James Walsh (R-NY) and ranking member Alan Mollohan (D-WV) both noted that they felt it would be difficult to get the full budget increase NASA asked for, according to reports by the Orlando Sentinel and Houston Chronicle. Walsh and Mollohan said they were unwilling to fight for that increase given the many unanswered questions about the exploration effort. Florida Today reported that O’Keefe responded by saying most the proposed increase would be used to return the shuttle to flight and resume assembly of the station. Without that increase, he warned, the shuttle safety effort “all becomes very compromised”.

19 comments to NASA budget concerns (part 2)

  • Harold LaValley

    I am starting to wonder if congress is holding NASA hostage due to the unwillingness of them for not doing the Hubble servicing mission with regards to the needed increase in budget to pay for the shuttle return to flight in 2005.

  • Dwayne A. Day

    I think that is a much lesser issue than the simple realities of budget politics. It is really difficult to justify a NASA budget increase when everything else is flat or getting cut. It just stands out like a nail the dance floor.

    Read Boehlert’s words again. There is logic to them, even if you disagree.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Dwayne – On the fairness excuse, it can be argued that a modest increase in NASA’s budget only constitutes catch up from the declines it endured during the Clinton years.

  • Dwayne A. Day

    Oh, that’s true. And one could argue that simply because NASA is getting an increase and almost no other budgets are also increasing does not mean that NASA is “more important” than all those others. After all, the amount of money is miniscule.

    But that’s all irrelevant. The way things are looking now, the overall budget may be held nearly flat. The result is that NASA then looks completely out of place getting an increase and that’s going to have an effect.

  • Yet no one thought it odd that NASA’s budget stalled for nearly a decade while other science budgets such as those of NIH and NSF (and others) soared by comparison.

  • Mark R, Whittington

    I have to agree with Keith in this case. Boehlert and others may use this “fairness excuse: all they want, but their real reasons can be found elsewhere in Boehlert’s speech. Before the President gets money for his priorities, Boehlert wants assurances that he gets some for his (Earth science, etc.) Everything else is window dressing designed to conceal sausage making style politics.

  • Bill White

    Mark, I know a man who sold his house near Chicago and moved to Texas to work on the SSC (Superconducting Super Collider) which was cancelled to provide funds for the ISS so astronauts could dissect animals in zero-gee.

    Pork is pork whether paid for science or to Boeing.

  • Harold LaValley

    But with no funding increase or changes to meet the new goals, will IMO mean the gutting of programs, the deletion of service missions and most likely the failure to complete the ISS. This is not only a near time event but also a ripple effect which transistions into the future as large delays for the SEI vision.
    Nasa Needs to start by purchasing not using contracts as a first step in cost lowering from any company that can provide the commodity that is needed.
    Second: companies like Boeing and Lockheed must become more of a manufacturer of products that the space industry will want and needs.
    Example: short term if the shuttle is never to be used again, we need a new crew capsule or plane which ever is preferred for existing rockets and get them man rated for use.
    Probably these rocket will need major and some minor modifications to get this done but it is in the right direction to get us back into space in the short term.
    Third: heavy lift capability is a must whether this is done by a shuttle derivative or some other means. Using and cludging pieces of what is available is a starting point.

  • Bill White

    I would not be unhappy if the orbiter NEVER flew again;

    we turned the ISS over to the RSA / ESA today (letting Starsem fly as many tourists as they want);

    we deployed uncrewed shuttle derived HLLV sooner rather than later;

    we deployed man-rated EELV CEV sooner rather than later;

    we returned to the Moon before 2015 (2010-2012?);

    we do MarsDirect by 2020.

  • Dwayne A. Day

    I think the concept of “fairness” when it comes to budget increases for agencies is a useless one. There’s plenty of unfairness to go around, depending upon your perspective. Is it “fair” for people to die of diseases when money is spent exploring Mars rather than curing those diseases?

    Ultimately, it comes down to a _very_ simple political equation: we are at war, that war is eating up a lot of money, we are in a big deficit, and NASA is just about the only budget that gets an increase. So it is very easy to see how NASA is not going to get that increase.

  • Bill White

    William Langewiesche, in the Atlantic Monthly, has written on the Columbia disaster and whether the shuttle should return to flight at all. In one short essay he writes that the essential question is whether humanity should undertake to become a two planet species. IMHO that is the real question.

    Issues such as “ISS completion” or “shuttle derived HLLV versus Delta IV EELV” or even “Bush v Kerry” almost seem to evaporate into insignificance when compared to the question “should humans beings become a genuine two planet species, bearing and raising children at multiple celestial locations?”

    This essay suggests that grounding the orbiter may help focus attention on this bigger question.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Bill – SCSC was not cancelled to fund the space station. It was cancelled because enough Congressmen wanted to make a statement of a big science project that, alas, was out of control.

    Another note on the “fairness excuse.” Today’s story on Space Daily indicates that Boehlert is favorably disposed to funded the shuttle/ISS portion of the proposed increase, plus a “part” of the Moon, Mars and Beyond portion. Now, the shuttle/ISS portion is about 730 million dollars. Right there the “fairness excuse” is blown away because NASA has must of the increase. Now, let us suppose that Boehlert agrees to a third of the remaining 136 million allocated to Moon, Mars, and Beyond. That leaves a 91 million dollar shortfall, a rounding error it seems to me in the overall VA, HUD, IA appropriatrions bill. If the President and Congress can’t find that little amount of money to bring MM&B up to full funding, then something is seriously wrong.

    The cynical part of me would suggest starting with the 300+ million Congress always saddles NASA with eremarks (i.e., useless pork.)

  • Harold LaValley

    For those that want to know the status report on the shuttles return to flight preperations.
    It is to bad that the Endeavour shuttle is so far behind the others due to the full or Major Modifications process.
    Has anyone come out an said what the recertification to use the shuttle longer than 2010 would entail besides all the ongoing return to flight stuff, repairs.

  • Nathan Horsley

    I cant help but noticing just about every point made above is accurate; thus showing the beauty (or ugliness) of politics. Its unfair that they use the fairness pretext for covering their porkbarrel politics. But Congress is actually laboring under the burden of a war that spends the entire NASA yearly budget in just 4 months (for Iraq alone). This makes any spending choices they make comparatively fair (or at least fiscally responsible-which is politically the same thing).

    To go back to the beginning of the comments, I dont think that the abandonment of Hubble is the cause of this, but it is a symptom of the lack of a spectacular justification for making NASA standout from the rest of the budget. If NASA were willing to take risks, perhaps the Congress would be more willing to take risks on them. I know this is a simplistic analysis, but if Hubble is something Congress really wants (which I’m not sure has been determined), it wouldnt be a bad thing to put it on the negotiating table as a part of the budget increase.

    This would create some tough trade-offs within a comparatively small budget increase, but if the public and Congress want Hubble, this would be a good way to slip in some extra funds for NASA without raising too much fuss. It could even be a way to spread the political credit for space exploration beyond the “Bush plan” (which goes to the crux of the issue, would this be perceived to cause political credit, or blame). At least it would take blame away from NASA if it is determined that Congress wants the flat budget more than Hubble. The risk is if this were played badly and/or Congress really doesnt care about Hubble, they could just say no thank you to the whole increase. Given the way things look now, that might not be losing anything. Something to consider.

  • Dwayne A. Day

    I don’t think that “pork barrel politics” is really the issue here. It is a question of both priorities and perceptions. As Boehlert asked “In such a budget, should NASA receive almost a 6 percent increase? Is it the highest domestic spending priority? I don’t think so, and I doubt my colleagues will either.”

    I doubt that anybody reading this would argue that NASA _is_ the highest domestic spending priority.

    Now yes, whether NASA is the “highest domestic spending priority” and whether it gets an increase (of any size) are separate issues. But that’s where the perception thing enters the picture–giving NASA an increase and no other budget an increase (other than Defense) strongly implies that NASA is special and should not face the same budget constraints that all the other agencies do. It is really difficult to argue against that perception.

    I’m not saying I _like_ this situation. But we have to face the reality of the situation rather than deny it.

  • Harold LaValley

    Well if no money is injected into there budget for new programs then the out come if run like manufacturing is to lower head counts and indirect cost as a way to free up capital. This using is done for short term but hurts long term for you usually loss those people that are let go for they never come back. Oh and then they hire though temp agencies at reduced wages for staffing needs.

  • Harold LaValley

    I think that the part that bothers me the most is that we have the ISS with now 2 bum gyro’s with no way to deliver new ones. If needed due to another failure or if both remaining units should fail what would we do then. Nasa needs to think outside of the box and prep a mission to deliver new gyro’s not with a shuttle but by another unmanned rocket. The delta 4 comes to mind for the lift capability and I think could be altered rather quickly to make this possible.

    Nasa must begin to try at least to improve its image to the other ISS partners or we will lose a very precious chance to begin exploring space as a united earth nations that have interest instead of by individualized mostly militarily concious efforts or of one upmanship.

    I for one do not want to see a chinese or anyother nations flag planted on the moon before we can plant another one ourselves.

  • Mark R, Whittington

    Dwayne – I don’t think you’re listening. If the Space Daily article is accurate, Boehlert has already conceeded that NASA will get most of the increase it’s asked for, that is to say all that’s related to shuttle/ISS (730 million) and part of the remaining 136 million related to Moon, Mars, and Beyond. Boehlert, I think, realizes that if NASA doesn’t get the increase, the shuttle doesn’t fly next year, not because of any technology snafu or management screwup, but because Congress would be irresponsibly stingy. The real fight, therefore, is over a an absurdly small amount of money. The “fairness” excuse is no longer, as they say inside the Beltway, operative.

  • Harold LaValley

    Does anyone know what the Mars robotic exploration: $691 million, a 16 percent increase is for. What mission does the detail apply to? Is this the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and if so why an increase is needed for an orbiter that should be almost ready for flight later this year.