Congress, White House

“Why the administration has undermined the Vision for Space Exploration”

That’s a direct quote from an unusual op-ed in Thursday’s Orlando Sentinel penned by two former senators—Jake Garn and John Glenn—and current senator Bill Nelson. The three say they don’t know for certain why the White House has failed to provide the appropriate guidance and funding needed to implement the Vision, “though we suspect it can be explained by Bush not knowing all the facts about what the real impact of NASA’s annual budgets has been since the loss of the Columbia in 2003.”

And what doesn’t Bush know? The three believe he’s not aware that NASA has not been reimbursed for the costs returning the shuttle to service after the Columbia accident, forced to come up with the $2.8 billion by raiding other programs. They believe Bush doesn’t know that the budget requests for the Vision his administration has submitted “have been on average a half-a-billion per year less than he projected” when the Vision was unveiled in 2004. He may also be unaware, they claim, that his directive in his 2004 speech about the Vision calling for completing the station and then retiring the shuttle by 2010 “has been turned into a mandate to end the shuttle program in 2010, whether or not the space station is finished.” (See some earlier discussion on differing interpretations of this deadline.) And, they say, Bush isn’t aware his budgets are creating a five-year gap in “U.S. human-spaceflight capability” (correct only if we exclude any US commercial alternatives that may arise during the Shuttle-Constellation interregnum.)

Fortunately, Congress is coming to the rescue because it “knows what it seems that Bush doesn’t” and is pressing ahead with authorization legislation that addresses many of these issues. (The op-ed ignores that current versions of appropriations bills are funding NASA at levels much lower than what is authorized—and the situation may only get worse if legislative gridlock forces NASA and other federal agencies to spend a significant part of FY2009 on a continuing resolution.) “Congress should reject the administration’s position on the NASA reauthorization bill, because to accept it is to surrender America’s leadership in space exploration” when other countries, including everyone’s favorite bogeyman, China, “are waiting in the wings”.

9 comments to “Why the administration has undermined the Vision for Space Exploration”

  • Dennis Wingo

    I don’t think that there is any great mystery here. OSTP head Marburger stated at the Goddard dinner in 2006 that if NASA did not show more relevance to advancing the nation’s economic interest that they would not get more funding.

    The ESAS architecture, from an economic development of space perspective, is the worst possible architecture.

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  • anonymouspace

    While it’s true that the NASA funding levels in the President’s annual budget submissions to Congress have not kept pace with VSE budget projections, Sens. Garn, Glenn, and Nelson conveniently ignore Congress’s power of the purse. The reality is that multiple Congresses, both Republican- and Democrat-controlled, have chosen to endorse the President’s lower budget submissions for NASA, rather than appropriate the higher budget amounts prescribed in the VSE budget projections. Our system of governance is built around a system of checks and balances, and by not checking the President’s budget submissions for NASA, Congress is just as guilty of underfunding the VSE and NASA as President Bush is.

    If Sen. Nelson really wanted to boost NASA’s budget above the levels in the President’s last submit, and not just score political points with voters back home in Florida, then he should ask Sens. Garn and Glenn to lobby key appropriators, rather than wasting their time and signatures on a local newspaper editorial.

    (I would argue that NASA also shares blame for the budget mess by picking a budget-busting human space exploration architecture, and that the White House and Congress need to provide much better oversight on this issue. But that’s another thread…)

    “OSTP head Marburger stated at the Goddard dinner in 2006 that if NASA did not show more relevance to advancing the nation’s economic interest that they would not get more funding.”

    Not true. In that speech, Marburger does make various statements to the effect that the Bush II White House VSE is tied more closely to supporting scientific, security, and economic goals than the Kennedy space exploration policy. Marburger also points out the Amercian Competitiveness Initiative, and the fact that the ACI is focused on those physical research areas that promise the greatest economic impact, which does not include any NASA research areas. But Marburger makes no threat (or any other statement) regarding NASA’s budget, in reference to economic relevance (or any other criterion). The speech is available here:

    http://www.nss.org/resources/library/spacepolicy/marburger1.html

    Please note that I’m not disagreeing with the argument that NASA’s human space flight program should be relevant and responsive to economic (among other) goals. But Marburger does not deliver a threat, at least in that speech, that NASA’s budget will go down unless NASA starts demonstrating such relevance and responsiveness. Given the weakness of OSTP in the White House decision structure, I’d argue that external budget pressures (Iraq, Katrina, etc.) had much more to do with White House decisions to not meet VSE budget projections than any consideration of the relevance of NASA’s human space flight programs to economic goals. To be honest, this White House has had little time to consider the economy at all until recent months.

    Based on Marburger’s speech, the most that we could say is that NASA wasn’t included in the ACI because NASA research programs have less economic impact compared to the most promising areas of federally funded research. But that doesn’t mean that Marburger thinks that NASA can or needs to demonstrate greater economic relevance, or that Marburger has recommended cutting NASA’s budget. It just means that there are other areas of the physical sciences that have greater bang for the buck than space research.

    FWIW…

  • rib2006

    Wait a minute. Didn’t the President’s office recently issue a statement that they intend to veto the upcoming NASA appropriation because it was spending too much money on science and distracting funding away from the VSE. In order to issue this detailed statement, it is an admission they know the facts. Period, end of discussion. They know what is happening.

    Now, the reason for them acting illogically, that is still up for discussion.

  • anonymouspace

    “Wait a minute. Didn’t the President’s office recently issue a statement that they intend to veto the upcoming NASA appropriation”

    No, the Statement of Administration Position (or SAP) was in reference to the House _authorization_ bill, not appropriations. Moreover, the SAP did not make a veto threat.

    FWIW…

  • Dennis Wingo

    Hmmm

    I guess you missed the linkages. From the speech:

    The wording of this policy phrase is significant. It subordinates space exploration to the primary goals of scientific, security, and economic interests. Stated this way, the “fundamental goal” identifies the benefits against which the costs of exploration can be weighed. This is extremely important for policy making because science, security, and economic dimensions are shared by other federally funded activities. By linking costs to these common benefits it becomes possible, at least in principle, to weigh investments in space exploration against competing opportunities to achieve benefits of the same type.

    and

    Opportunities exist in other fields of physical science as well, such as nuclear and particle physics, space science and exploration, but these are not emphasized in the Competitiveness Initiative. Not that the U.S. is withdrawing from these fields, but ACI does signal an intention to fund the machinery of science in a way that ensures continued leadership in fields likely to have the greatest impact on future technology and innovation. The decision to make this needed adjustment for selected fields does not imply a downgrading of priority for other important areas of science, such as biomedical research and space science. These remain priorities, but the agencies that fund them are regarded as having budgets much more nearly commensurate with the opportunities, challenges, and benefits to be gained from pursuing these fields. As the nation pursues other critically important objectives, including reducing the budget deficit, the ACI gives priority to a small number of areas to ensure future U.S. economic competitiveness.

    I don’t know about you but there is a heavy implication here that space does not (in the eyes of the administration) ensure future economic competitiveness and therefore fails the relative value metric as stated in the first paragraph. Therefore the problem is that the space program, as it is currently constituted BY NASA does not contribute to future economic competitiveness and therefore has a lower priority for funding. This is the point that I have been making in various venues. This is not because there is no intrinsic value of space exploration in contributing to future economic competitiveness but that the exploration architecture that is in place now most assuredly does not. Indeed, if contributing to future economic competitiveness was a goal that underlies the ESAS architecture, it would have been very difficult to do a worse job at meeting that goal than what was developed.

    It is quite obvious that the ESAS architecture ignored the statements laid out as the foundation for the VSE (lunar resources to enable a lower cost mission to Mars) and has since the beginning been focused on building system that is “Apollo on steroids” approach, that as anyone knows who has read about steroids, produces brittle bones and other complications that defeat the purpose of the steroids to start with.

    Marburger explicitly made the economic linkage in his speech as a metric for weighing relative merit and priority for funding. It is really hard to read that speech in any other manner.

  • gas bag

    Marburger explicitly made the economic linkage in his speech as a metric for weighing relative merit and priority for funding. It is really hard to read that speech in any other manner.

    And yet Sh1tburger remains silent about ESAS, and everything else science related with this administration. How could that be?

    Could it be because he is in actuality a worthless P0S? Yes, that must be it.

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