This week’s print edition of Space News reported that Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), speaking at a Maryland Space Business Roundtable luncheon last week, suggested that the solution to NASA’s budget woes might be for Congress to approve $2 billion in “emergency” supplemental funding . Such a move, which Mikulski said she planned to discuss with the President at a White House meeting this week, would get around existing spending limits. The increase would also fund NASA above the level authorized in last year’s authorization bill, but because of the “emergency” nature of the funding, those limits also would not apply.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, speaking at CSIS earlier this week, said she favored some kind of addition to the NASA budget. “I think that increasing even one-tenth of one percent would add to the research capabilities” of NASA, she said. (It was later explained that this 0.1% increase was not relative to NASA’s overall budget, which would be a pittance, but rather 0.1% of the entire federal budget, or over $2 billion.) She added that “there might come a time when we are not in a war on terror, in the next few years” which might free up money for NASA and other efforts—although in that case many might want to reduce spending to close the budget deficit.
Advocates of such a measure notes that NASA has absorbed the cost of recovering from the Columbia accident largely within its existing budget, while NASA received additional money after the Challenger accident. “So we’ve had to forage [out of] NASA’s regular programs to do what Challenger got as an emergency chunk of bucks,” Mikulski said last week. The difference then is that much of that “emergency chunk of bucks” was used to pay for a replacement orbiter, Endeavour, while no new orbiter is being built to replace Columbia. However, back then NASA wasn’t trying to develop new launch vehicles and manned spacecraft in preparation for a return to the Moon.