Bipartisan nonsupport and big targets

Going through my notes from last week’s address at the National Space Symposium by Rep. Ken Calvert, I picked up a theme that relates to some recent discussions in the comments of previous posts, where some were trying to hang blame on one party or another for NASA’s FY07 funding woes. Calvert noted that one of the House members who voted against the 2005 NASA authorization bill is the current appropriations chairman, David Obey (although Calvert didn’t mention him by name, only by title). “This is a problem as NASA finds itself in a precarious time, trying to ramp up spending to move America beyond low Earth orbit while also meeting the demands of the agency’s diverse portfolio of missions.”

Was Calvert making an attack against the Democratic leadership in the House? No. “There is a dangerous trend of bipartisan nonsupport in funding NASA in Congress,” he said. He mentioned two amendments to the original FY07 appropriations bill on the House floor last summer that would have either prevented NASA from spending any money on Mars exploration efforts, and another that would have transferred NASA funds to other programs. While both amendments were defeated (a moot point, as it turned out, since that appropriations bill was never enacted and replaced with a continuing resolution), “The reality is that members of both parties supported these amendments, and by a large margin.”

That doesn’t bode well for NASA during the FY2008 budget process. “You can bet that NASA will be the target again this year unless we prepare to defend NASA funding against grabs from other areas.”

3 comments to Bipartisan nonsupport and big targets

  • al Fansome


    I think this effect is explained by the previous story, which talks about the low public opinion of space spending.

    I knew public support for spending on NASA was low, but even I was surprised that, among Republicans, the same % of people would cut NASA’s budget as would cut “welfare.” This might indicate that the average citizen is starting to relate to NASA funding as “white collar welfare”.

    Considering the public’s attitude, and the failure of Griffin to pick an ESAS strategy that gives our elected leaders the outputs they already want to buy (e.g., a marketing approach), I think NASA is in for a tough time.

    What does Congress want to buy?

    Last week at the National Space Symposium, I heard two key Defense appropriations staffers (Adam Harris (Dem) and Josh Hartman (Rep)) say some shocking words for appropriators. They both agreed that we should spend MORE money on military space programs. They also both talked about how attitudes in Congress have been impacted by the recent Chinese ASAT demonstration. At the same time, I hear that the White House OSTP is focused on the same issue.

    In summary, Congress wants to “buy” a solution to the Chinese ASAT problem, and the broader threat of asymmetric attacks on our critical space assets, and they are signalling their willingness to write big checks to do so. Too bad Griffin did not choose an architecture that allowed NASA to be part of the solution to this real national security problem. I believe he would have gotten the budget increase he is asking for.

    Griffin makes great speeches (attempting to sell what Griffin wants), but there is a big difference between “marketing” & “selling”.

    – Al

  • richardb

    Al, I don’t see how Nasa could ever hitch its wagon to the Chinese Asat wagon train. That train has left the frontier and is picking up speed daily. Its not just in space where the American military rubs up against Chinese capabilities on a daily basis. Its at sea too. Thats why there will be no “peace dividend” once Iraq winds down.

    Personally, I think Griffin’s got the potential to be a pivotal figure in American space history and national security if he can midwife COTS into a successful program. Imagine a profitable American launcher industry that competes head to head with the lowest cost suppliers. That will be good for Nasa and national security. The DOD could never deliver an efficient & cheap American launcher industry, Nasa of the past couldn’t either. Maybe Griffin will.

  • al Fansome


    I have previously explained that if NASA (Griffin) had chosen a different architecture — for going to the Moon and beyond — that had a propellant depot in LEO as its central feature, that this would create a compelling reason for Congress to give MORE money to NASA, as NASA’s Moon/Mars plans would also create significant economic and national security benefits for the nation.

    A propellant depot architecture would create a major increase in demand for U.S. commercial space transportation providers. (It would also create a major incentive for our national government to take other steps to encourage new commercial space transportation providers.) This long-term increase in demand, which would be a multi-decade commitment, would increase the investment in new commercial space transportation systems. The old NASA would suddenly have a huge interest in helping the new space transportation industry succeed.

    Most importantly (for the discussion at hand) NASA could make a legitimate and persuasive case to Congress that NASA’s Moon/Mars plans would also:

    A) Transform the U.S. commercial space industry (in many ways)

    B) Provide Operationally Responsive Spacelift as a major part of the answer to threat of assymetric Chinese (or Iranian, or North Korean) attacks, includin ASATs.

    IMO, asking Congress to open up their check books to write big checks for a Moon/Mars system that will create major growth in the commercial space industry, and will deliver concrete, specific and measureable national security benefits would be much more successful than the current NASA sales pitch.

    If something about this alternative approach is not clear, please let me know what that might be.

    – Al

    PS — It really was a national security issue that originally sold Apollo. Kennedy did not care about “exploration” and “science”. Let’s do what works. I am just suggesting a credible “national security” strategy for selling a plan to go back to the Moon, and on to Mars.

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