Congress, NASA

Hearings, budgets, and priorities

It was easy to miss (I know I did), but the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing Friday morning about the NASA budget. (Unfortunately, appropriators are not as enlightened as their colleagues, and the hearing was not webcast, nor opening statements of the witnesses or committee members posted online.) The two witnesses at the hearing were Len Fisk, chair of the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council, and Ray Colladay, chair of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board of the NRC. According to a Florida Today article, Fisk said that NASA is overextended and lacks the financial resources to carry out both the Vision for Space Exploration as well as science missions. The Houston Chronicle reported that one member of the subcommittee, John Culberson (R-TX), said he would seek to add $1.7 billion to NASA’s FY08 budget to both make up for the shortfall in the final FY07 budget as well as provide for an increase along the lines of the “Mikulski Miracle” attempted last year. Culberson said some of the money for the NASA increase could come from the Commerce Department’s budget, but he didn’t specify what programs there he had in mind.

This week NASA administrator is scheduled to come to the Hill for several hearings: one on Tuesday before the same House appropriations subcommittee that met on Friday, and again on Thursday morning for a hearing on the NASA budget proposal by the space subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee. On Thursday afternoon Griffin will appear at a NASA budget hearing by the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. So there should be plenty of fodder for discussion about the state of the space agency and its budget.

As a prelude to those hearings, the Denver Post discusses today how the “Mars focus” the space agency has affected the space agency and its other priorities. (Nevermind that there’s not much of a focus on Mars at NASA other than as either a destination for a steady stream or robotic spacecraft or as a nebulous long-term destination for human exploration.) The article quotes Rep. Mark Udall, chair of the House Science and Technology Committee’s space subcommittee, as saying he supports “as much as we can in equal measure” human spaceflight, earth and space science, and aeronautics, and that if there’s not enough money to fund all of them, “you’ve got to spread the pain.”

3 comments to Hearings, budgets, and priorities

  • anonymous

    If Sen. Culberson really thinks he can extract $1.7 billion from a $6.6 billion Commerce budget (i.e., cut Commerce by one-quarter), good luck. Even making up the half-billion 2007 exploration shortfall out of Commerce would be a major feat, given that Commerce’s budget is a third of NASA’s and that Commerce has its own budget needs and problems (especially remote sensing satellite underestimates/overruns). I suspect Culberson is not this out of touch and is just posturing for NASA voters back home and only expects to make an empty, unsuccessful attack on traditional targets at Commerce to play to the Republican base. Although I despise Mollohan’s egregious earmarking, the chair’s comments are more telling of the real budget situation than Culberson’s:

    “Subcommittee chairman Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., cautioned Culberson that there may not be money available to do so.”

    It is very sad to read in the other article than all NASA science missions are projected to drop to two per year by 2010. That’s a pathetic rate on par with the nadir of the 1980s, and much too high a price to pay for an oversized, duplicative, and unnecessary human-rated Ares 1 launcher. NASA and Griffin can and should do better.

  • anonymous

    It’s a little inaccurate and rambling in places, but a decent assessment of the budget situation for NASA exploration, especially details regarding the lunar robotic program, can be found here:

  • anonymous

    Another, less rambling, assessment of the current budget situation for NASA exploration, for those who don’t get Space News in hardcopy form:

    Thanks to some Logsdon quotes, it does a good job separating the Ares 1/CEV budgetary situation from the budget situation of the rest of actual lunar return hardware.

    Griffin warns:

    “Griffin recently warned that giving NASA anything less than its full request for 2008 would inflict ‘grave and lasting damage to the program.'”

    Given that meeting the full request requires a huge, very unlikely, six-percent increase over 2007, given the lack of support in the House mentioned in the article, and other factors, I think NASA will not get its full 2008 request (or even close to it) and that more damage will be done to exploration.

    Too bad Griffin and ESAS did not create a plan based around such a predictable eventuality. It’s the epitome of poor foresight and leadership.

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