That’s what some people might be experiencing even before digging into the turkey and stuffing today, after reading a front-page article (above the fold) in today’s Washington Post about the budget problems facing NASA. (Thanks to the wonders of syndication, this article also appeared in a number of other newspapers today, and will likely be in still more in the days to come.) While much of the content of the story rests on several unnamed sources, the problem at the core of the article is common knowledge to most readers: there is not enough money in the projected NASA budgets over the next several years to both fly all 19 planned shuttle missions (18 to ISS and one to Hubble) and accelerate development of the CEV so it’s ready to enter service in 2012. Earlier this month NASA administrator Michael Griffin himself admitted to Congress that there is a $3-5 billion gap, while others pin the shortfall to be as much as $6 billion.
The article does do a good job outlining the four possible scenarios to deal with this problem:
- Shut down the shuttle program now (but deal with serious foreign policy repercussions that would make it unlikely Europe, Japan, or others would cooperate with NASA on the VSE);
- Fly all the shuttle missions and push the CEV introduction date back to 2014 (realizing that whatever date you pick now for starting CEV operations, it will slip; in addition, if there is no commercial ISS access by 2012 NASA would not be able to purchase Russian flight services under the recently-amended INA);
- Cut back the shuttle program to “serial processing” and fly only about 10 shuttle missions through 2010 (although that may not save much money, and with only that many flights “what kind of a space station do you get out of that?” one source told the Post);
- Spend the additional money needed to fly all the shuttle flights and accelerate CEV development.
The article indicated that the fourth option is “the one probably favored by Congress”, but that could be a hard sell if Congress gets into a belt-tightening mood next year.
In a related story, SpaceRef published a copy of a letter from the Coalition of Space Exploration to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card asking that the administration’s request of $16.962 billion for NASA in the FY07 budget request, to be released early next year. That was the amount proposed by the administration itself for 2007 in its FY06 budget request and, according to one source, is indeed what the administration is planning to put in for NASA in the FY07 budget. However, that falls well short of the additional funding needed to do shuttle and CEV.
Update: There does appear to be a fifth option for the budget minded…