More complaints about NASA funding

The Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing yesterday that included some discussion of NASA funding (you can be excused if you didn’t hear about it, since there were no details about the hearing released on the subcommittee’s web site). One person who did testify was Planetary Society executive director Lou Friedman, who argued, to no one’s surprise, that NASA funding cuts had “distorted” the Vision for Space Exploration: “Its mantra, ‘go as you pay,’ has become ‘go as you cannibalize other programs.’ Its scientific underpinnings have been removed, leaving it suspended with uncertain public support and public interest.” Friedman calls for increased NASA funding to “restore the Vision’s scientific underpinnings”. “If such a realistic budget increase is impossible, then the Vision’s timetable should be stretched.”

Meanwhile, the Huntsville Times reports that one member of the subcommittee is asking for more money for NASA. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee “asking for serious consideration to a NASA budget shortfall of about $500 million.” Aderholt, whose district is just south of Huntsville, is concerned in particular about support for Marshall’s Ares 1 and lunar exploration programs.

17 comments to More complaints about NASA funding

  • I am glad that, unlike earlier Administrators, Griffin is cutting funding for other programs so that there is at least a modicum of funding for the mission that the President challenged NASA to do. In the past, NASA has tried to keep every program mandated by Congress funded, thus stretching is budget to the breaking point, while those funded programs were no more than on life-support. Griffin has to be the first Administrator in 30 years to say, “No!” to Congress and to remain focused on this nation’s key goals: retire the Shuttle in 2010; Build Ares and Orion and get back in the exploration game. In doing this, Griffin is forcing the President and Congress to the understanding that the $ problem is not going away and that something will have to be done. Hopefully that will happen.

  • Jim,
    I think the problem that some of these people are bringing up is that some of these missions that have been cut are part and parcel of the Vision for Space Exploration.


  • D. Messier

    In doing this, Griffin is forcing the President and Congress to the understanding that the $ problem is not going away and that something will have to be done.

    Or not.

    There’s an equal or better chance that nothing will change and that the budget for these programs will continue to spiral downward. Bush doesn’t seem to care that much about science. Has he said or done much to indicate that he cares enough about this to actually do anything?

    My guess is that at some point, a future president (or NASA administrator) will look at all this and say, “Holy frak! We needed these programs! What we’re they thinking?” And it will be very expensive to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

    It’s difficult to believe that the Planetary Society didn’t see any of this coming. Given the way NASA does big projects, the tendency to grossly underestimate program costs, and the large deficits that Bush has run up. It never made any sense to me that they could do all these things without eventually cannibalizing almost everything else in their budget.

    I guess the program was stuck in a desert called LEO so long that Bush’s proposal looked like a giant oasis. Few of these advocacy groups seem to have thought it through very well.

  • Tom

    It’s difficult to believe that the Planetary Society didn’t see any of this coming.

    What?! The Planetary Society has been challenging the current Griffin implementation of VSE for over a year now.

  • My understanding is that the whole Ares I concept originated in Planetary Society work, and that this whole ESAS debacle is for the most part the fault of the Planetary Society. It would have been nice if the Planetary Society had disowned an obviously flawed architecture from the start, but that isn’t the case. I hope the Planetary Society seriously considers their role in this awful outcome. I think a little bit of soul searching among Planetary Society members is in order.

  • D. Messier

    What?! The Planetary Society has been challenging the current Griffin implementation of VSE for over a year now.

    Only the last year, huh? They should have been skeptical from the start.

    Didn’t know TPS was involved in originating Ares I. Can you site some sources or documents? I’d be interested in knowing more.

  • Tom

    TPS sponsored the original July 2004 study, “Extending Human Presence into the Solar System,” which was led by Griffin and Owen Garriott. This formed the basis for ESAS.

    The study had a decidedly different focus than the current NASA implementation. It had much more of a Mars focus. CLV and CaLV were supposed to be slam dunks, based on use of existing Shuttle hardware. Work since ESAS has shown that the assumptions for CLV performance were too optimistic.

    When it was realized that CLV required much more resources than originally assumed, thus reducing the funds available for space science, TPS became an opponent.

    TPS has been a strong advocate of VSE, but they strongly oppose the way is crrently being implemented.

  • John Malkin

    How could they have underestimated CLV requirements if they were still defining them? I think main debate as it’s been voiced here many times is specifically the Ares I architecture and the use of legacy shuttle components in its design. The other debate is support staff for the production CLV system and the transition from Shuttle staff to CLV staff. All of these relate back to the final operational cost. Although this is related to VSE, the main purpose of CLV is to replace the basic functionality of Shuttle which should have been done 10 yrs ago or more. I don’t think CLV comes under the pay as you go part of the budget since it’s basic functionality. We need to fund this so we can get rid of Shuttle soon before we need to recertify a system that is very expensive.

    Asteroids, Hemorrhoids, Moon, Mars and beyond (VSE) is the pay as you go part which I think funding is close to nil at this point.

    So do we replace shuttle? COTS? Something else? Do we fund this as program at a level to complete by 2010 and should other programs give sacrifices to accomplish it?

  • D. Messier and Tom: It’s difficult to believe that the Planetary Society didn’t see any of this coming.
    What?! The Planetary Society has been challenging the current Griffin implementation of VSE for over a year now.

    The Planetary Society advocated for this architecture, and are now opposed to the price of its implementation. The nation’s current financial situation was entirely predictable, as was using Shuttle components without much modification being an overly optimistic simplification. The fact remains, something similar to this architecture (Ares-1 versus EELV debates aside) is the option for continuing human spaceflight with the lowest up-front costs, the highest chance of near-term rsults, and the least impact on other parts of NASA. Given the financial realities, any other architecture — e.g., developing better rockets or entirely reusable vehicles — would have pushed up-front costs higher and / or pushed results (a landing somewhere) out, and probably far out.

    I’d have more respect for the society (and renew my membership) if they proposed a workable alternative, rather than just complaining.

    All that said, I do agree with those who argue that developing Ares-1 has pushed costs — and thus impacts to the rest of NASA — far higher than they had to be.

    — Donald

  • Donald,

    In Lou Friedman’s defense, the Planetary Society called for implementing the vision by immediate cancelling ISS construction, with only a Shuttle flight to repair Hubble. Lou’s plan was to afford growing science budgets AND CEV/CLV by jettisoning Shuttle and Station.

    Given that the aerospace industry trots out “Return Shuttle to Flight” and “Complete ISS assembly” as the first two pillars of the Vision, this was not exactly a politically feasible plan. But it was an intellectually honest one.

    – Jim

  • Okay, Jim, fair enough. Thanks.

    However, I do think they now need to come up with a plan that a). starts from where we are here and now; b) advances human spaceflight without enormous gaps in capability; c) continues automated science at whatever level they think necessary. As long as they are only complaining, it does not help.

    For what it’s worth, to paraphrase a mutual friend, if I were god-king of the nation, I would have cancelled the Shuttle after the loss of Columbia; used the Space Station more-or-less as is and/or paid the Russians to launch newly built equipment using the Proton (dropping the Shuttle and abandoning the Space Station did not need to be synonomous); deployed a lunar-oriented Orion on EELVs; and relied on Soyuz/Progress and COTS vehicles to supply the Station. We coulda had it all!

    — Donald

  • We coulda had it all!

    That’s all there is, eh? No wonder the United States is going backwards.

  • D. Messier

    I don’t know how realistic cancelling ISS was. Or how adviseable. Given that it was already flying and we spent 20 years and how many billions of taxpayers’ dollars building it by that point and it would have been nice to get something useful out of it. But, that’s an argument for another day.

    What is clear is that cancelling the program was not part of the plan Bush unveiled. Since cancelling ISS seemed to be an integral part of what TPS proposed, that should have raised some a lot more concern than it did and a lot earlier.

    I didn’t know the part about TPS’s proposal, and the plan raised concerns with me. It never seemed reasonable that they could do all these things with only modest increases in NASA’s budget and moderate cuts elsewhere. Not given NASA’s history. Or the wars on terror and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush’s underestimating of those costs. Or his spendthrift, deficit-spending fiscal policies. Or his attitude about science in general or global warming in particular. I knew he’d use it as an excuse to cut into that part of the budget.

    Again, I go back to a community wandering around in the LEO desert for decades finally seeing what looked like the Las Vegas Strip. I don’t think people questioned it enough. If they did, there were always prominent people who told them to sit down and shut up.

  • Adrasteia

    Loss aversion doesn’t make ISS a useful research platform. That hundred billion (two hundred if you include shuttle fixed costs) has been sunk, it’s not coming back.

    Shuttle/ISS costs $8B a year. We have to rationally ask whether the minuscule 20 hours a week of micro-gravity research we are currently getting with that money is a worthwhile investment, or whether that capital could be better allocated elsewhere like leasing Bigelow modules or moving it to the science program.

    Or the wars on terror and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    War ‘Of’ Terror. Bombing the shit out of a country isn’t going to solve the problem. The only defence against terrorism is competent law enforcement.

  • D. Messier


    I was specifically speaking about the cost of these wars and the impact that would have on non-defense related discretionary spending. The budgeting rationale put out by Bush was questionable at best. Add in the inevitable cost increases that occur with large space projects, the deficits we were running, and the escalating war costs, and it made less sense.

    My point on ISS is that even if it was desireable to cancel the program, it turned out to be not politically feasible. It would have been difficult to cancel it and then go to the Europeans and Japanese and say, “Hey, join on this moon/Mars project.”

  • Lurking Lurker

    It’s hilarious to hear all the whining about the NASA budget. The congress put more pork in the latest Iraq bill (in order to buy off those conservative dems) than 150% of NASA’s 2007 budget. Messier and his ilk use the same blind excuse making that has been used for 45 years to give congress a pass on actually doing anything.

    When are you guys going to figure out that the political hacks in this country don’t see the value in what space brings to the table? The so called community has done nothing to change this either. Flying more rich guys is hardly a call to arms for the future of the nation.

  • Flying more rich guys is hardly a call to arms for the future of the nation.

    America is more interested in flying their Harley’s and Hummer’s in record heatwaves than they are in investing in the future of their nation.

    The fact that they are putting their entire manned space flight future in a low flight rate SRB powered launch vehicle should have been your first hint.

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