Granted, there’s not much in that FY10 NASA budget summary released yesterday, but there’s just enough—both the topline budget number and the statements that commit the agency to retiring the shuttle in 2010 and returning humans to the Moon by 2020—to warrant a variety of reactions from the space community. Some highlights:
In a brief statement, acting NASA administrator Chris Scolese calls the proposal “fiscally responsible and reflects the administration’s desire for a robust and innovative agency”. The budget also gets a thumbs-up from the Coalition for Space Exploration, calling it a “vote of confidence for NASA by the President” and hoping that future budget specifics “address some of the fiscal challenges that NASA faces in future years.” Similarly, the Aerospace Industries Association expresses its support for NASA and other aviation and defense budget proposals. “In this remarkably difficult economic atmosphere, we are encouraged to see a budget proposal that recognizes the importance of our national security and invests in space and aviation priorities,” AIA president and CEO Marion Blakey said in the statement.
Not everyone is happy, though. “The budget proposal for NASA represents a disappointingly small step in the right direction,” said Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham in a statement. “Combined with the lingering absence of a NASA administrator, we are missing a golden opportunity to lead and inspire at a time when leadership and inspiration are crucial.”
Former NASA official Chris Shank, speaking with Space News [subscription required], is pleased with the near-term budget but has reservations about the future. Buried in a chart in the summary tables section of the budget outline [page 18 of the PDF document] is that the administration is projecting flat budgets for NASA after FY10: $18.6 billion in fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013, and $18.9 billion in 2014. “More money sooner is always better for program and project planning, but in 2012 to 2013, the consequence of that flatlined budget translates into $1 billion less than was previously planned.” he said, referring to Bush Administration outyear projections that had NASA’s budget growing at 2.4 percent a year.
In Florida, the apparent decision not to extend the life of the shuttle didn’t go over well with some. “We cannot fly the shuttle forever, but conducting shuttle launches on an arbitrary deadline is unsafe and unnecessary,” Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), whose district includes the Kennedy Space Center, told Florida Today. She said that the administration also “must provide additional resources to minimize the gap between the shuttle program and Constellation in order to protect jobs at Kennedy Space Center and throughout Central Florida”. However, in a statement provided to the paper, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) was happy to see the administration endorse existing plans to return to the Moon and “to extend the shuttle if needed to complete work on the International Space Station”, a claim not necessarily supported by the language in the budget summary.
The budget proposal also gets words of encouragement from Alabama’s senators: both Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions said they were “encouraged” by the size of the proposed budget. However, the Huntsville Times article curiously claims that “NASA will receive $1.4 billion extra next fiscal year for a variety of lunar missions”, although there is no breakout yet of how the $18.7 billion would be spent.
And what about the lack of specific references to Ares or Orion in the budget document? John Logsdon tells New Scientist not to read too much into that just yet. “I wouldn’t interpret the absence of the words ‘Constellation’, ‘Ares’, and ‘Orion’ one way or another. That’s really up to the new management team, when it gets there.”
Finally, this dispatch from the Department of Wishful Thinking, not about the FY10 budget but the stimulus bill passed earlier this month: a Deseret News article about whether any of that stimulus money will go to the Ares 1 development. “NASA has received $400 billion specifically earmarked for the space shuttle replacement. But it is not clear yet if any of those funds will be available to ATK for its portion of Ares.” [emphasis added, of course; the actual amount is $400 million]. Presumably for $400 billion you could get one heck of a “shuttle replacement”. Maybe.