In a column in Sunday’s Naples (Fla.) Daily News (free registration required), Ben Bova covers familiar ground regarding the Hubble Space Telescope. However, he adds that Kepler, a Discovery-class mission to search for extrasolar planets, may also be endangered. He notes that between $35 and $50 million will be cut from the program in NASA’s proposed FY2006 budget. This cut “effectively guts the program” and raises fears that the mission could be cancelled. Even if it isn’t cancelled, Bova concludes, the cut could stretch out the program and result in layoffs, increasing its overall costs.
What isn’t clear from the report is the source of the size of the Kepler budget cut. NASA’s FY2006 budget proposal (p. 341) calls for $111.5 million for Kepler in FY2006. In comparison, NASA’s FY2005 budget request projected $114.4 million in 2006. It is true, though, the Kepler’s launch has slipped from October 2007 to “TBD” because of “schedule concerns”, upon which the budget document doesn’t elaborate. However, Kepler has passed its critical design review and was approved to enter Phase C/D a month ago.