Congress, NASA

NASA versus the deficit

A likely battle in Congress in 2010 will revolve around the budget deficit and attempts to reduce it, given the massive deficit accumulated in FY2009. At the same time it appears that Congressional space supporters, and perhaps the White House, will be seeking additional funding for NASA in FY2011. Are these two efforts on a collision course?

In his WAAY-TV interview yesterday, Congressman Parker Griffith (D-AL) mentioned both NASA and deficit reduction as priorities. Asked at the end of the interview about what his priorities were in 2010, he said, “It’s the continuing funding of Ares 1 and Ares 5, pushing our job creation here, but, most important, America needs to reduce its deficit and retain and maintain its dominance in space and in our military.”

Griffith isn’t the only space supporter also positioning himself as a deficit hawk. In an op-ed in The Hill earlier this week, Congressman Pete Olson (R-TX), ranking member of the House Science and Technology Committee’s space subcommittee, complained about the willingness of the White House and Congressional leadership to spend. “In a recession with extremely limited resources, Congress has gone on a spending spree writing costly checks that taxpayers simply cannot afford to cash,” he wrote. And Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) introduced legislation in October to require a balanced budget. (The release notes that Shelby has “introduced similar legislation in every Congress since 1981″, which should give you an idea of its odds of success.)

Of course, NASA is a tiny part of the overall federal budget (just over half a percent in FY 2010), and increasing its budget, by $1 billion or even $3 billion, does little to budget deficits hundreds of times larger. (Likewise, cutting NASA alone doesn’t do much for deficit relief.) However, if Congress does get serious in 2010 about deficit reduction, any program that’s proposed to get an increase is likely going to come under special scrutiny. Are the agency’s supporters in Congress—particularly those who also cast themselves as fiscal conservatives—prepared to respond?

19 comments to NASA versus the deficit

  • Robert G. Oler

    NASA is NOT a tiny part of the federal budget if one looks soley at the dollars spent to create and maintain a space industry in The Republic, particularly one associated with human space flight.

    Indeed in the later category, NASA is all the money spent.

    And all of it is more or less Pork and that can be seen by the arguments by mostly pro space elected representatives in a district where space dollars are spent.

    As the “end times” approach for the various pork pie projects not a single argument put forth by Olsen etc are non pork.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Eliminate the US manned space program and we could eliminate the Federal deficit in less than 2000 years:-)

  • Robert G. Oler

    Marcel F. Williams

    Eliminate the US crewed space program, replace it with something that uses commercial hardware and

    1. launch cost get lower
    2. the launch market returns to the US
    3 this creates jobs that dont depend on government taxes and in fact pay taxes
    4 the future is wide open.

    Robert G. Oler

  • NASA Fan

    Is there pent up demand for access to space that would result in an increase in the launch rates sufficient to ‘lower launch costs?”

    And is there monies to support the development of the pent up payloads/experiments/missions that would take advantage of an increased flight rate?

    Launch costs are eating the NASA robotics missions lunch. If launch costs were cut in half, it would allow future missions to start earlier, but I doubt you’d see an explosion of missions that would drive down launch costs.

    What about private industry demand?

  • CharlesHouston

    NASA Fan: You asked Robert Oler if there was pent up demand for access to space. Certainly there has been a waiting list for flights to ISS (Tito got a bargain rate as it turns out!!) and now a waiting list for even sub-orbital flights. The people who will fly with Virgin Galactic probably just want to “buy” a pair of astronaut wings to dangle at cocktail parties. So the demand appears to be there. At the same time, re-thinking by Burt Rutan seems to have greatly decreased costs by going back to an air launched configuration like we abandoned long ago.
    So there are two things that are working to lower launch costs – demand and new thinking.
    Commercial companies might come back (and fly people again) if they could have a more reliable launch schedule. Certainly the demand is there for geosynch comm sats, etc.
    Hopefully, launch costs can be decreased by a gradual increase in the flight rate. And then hopefully NASA can get back to deep space exploration and fly more often. Those are government moneys so they depend on the will of the elected officials that run the government! Hopefully the center of gravity of space will shift more from government operations to commercial operations. But that will provide a better launch cost to government missions when they are scheduled.
    We’ll see how this works out.

  • Robert G. Oler

    NASA Fan wrote @ December 21st, 2009 at 6:44 am

    Is there pent up demand for access to space that would result in an increase in the launch rates sufficient to ‘lower launch costs?”…

    I would answer your question in two parts.

    The first is that right now launch cost play such a large role in the cost of the vehicle that any vehicle has to have very long life to allow those launch cost to be recouped and fade as the lifetime of the vehicle goes on. So (and I am pulling numbers out of thin air, but they can illustrate the point).

    A DirecTV satelllite has XXX launch cost and cost YY to build and takes A years to put together. those are all related to trying to build it to have enough capability to be useful over some number of years that pay back the investment and indeed make money.

    If the launch cost were “not as much” by a significant amount then there is less to pay back and it is possible to shorten the build/use cycle and still make money. That should also lower the redundancy of the satellite so that the cost go down…orvica versa the ability to launch new capabilities over time goes up.

    The second border is that as the cost go down (and this is not just launch but in human ops includes operational cost) then new infrastructure is capable. Out of the private sector and on to defense.

    Right now most of our optical “national recee means” are in polar orbit. Imagine that we now have the ability to build and service instruments in geo orbit which can give the same resolution as the polar ones. Those are game changes in almost everything national defense.

    Imagine that launch cost are cheaper so that one builds large communications rafts at the ISS (or at a equatorial “construction camp”) ion drives them up to Geosynch and then periodically service and updates them. that is a new capability that inspires more launches.

    Imagine that a FAlcon 9 heavy is available for what the Delta middle is. or less…what kind of probes can you now send out.

    Lowering “the launch bar” allows 1) a rethink in current ops and 2) a whole new infrastructure to run into place.

    This is why Musk and Falcon are so important. It is an overall lowering of the complexity of the operations as well as the cost. That makes a lot possible that is not today and makes a lot probable that almost no one talks about today.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Since the primary goal for NASA’s manned space flight program should be to enhance the human ability to settle the rest of the solar system and to exploit its natural resources for commercial benefit, NASA’s first goals should be to:

    1. establish a permanent base on the Moon as a simple first step towards colonizing the Moon

    2. develop light sail technologies in order to transport astronauts and large payloads rapidly through interplanetary space and in order to capture and harvest the stupendous natural resources of small 50 tonne to 1000 tonne NEO asteroids

    3. help private industry develop a simple DC-3 rocket in order for private industry to have easy and safe access to orbit for both manned and unmanned space travel

    4. help private industry to develop reusable orbital transfer vehicles and lunar shuttles for use by NASA, the military, and private industry utilizing extraterrestrial resources from small captured asteroids and in situ lunar resources in order to refuel such vehicles

    5. develop simple microgravity and artificial gravity space stations for LEO, L1, L4, L5, Mars orbit and beyond for NASA, the military, and private industry.

    6. establish a permanent base on Mars as a simple first step towards eventually colonizing the Red Planet.

  • Dave Cadman

    Marcel, I agree with you that these should be the goals for Humanity, not just NASA, however I don’t believe we will achieve these in the first half of the 21st Century; settling of Space, beyond the VanAllen Belts, is a hazardous job; we have not come to grips with the Cosmic and Solar Radiation yet; that is the real show stopper; and I don’t think we are at a stage technologically that we can say in the next 25-30 years we will be; at best we will be using soil shielding on Mars and the Moon for temporary bases, much like we did with Antartica back in the 50s to 70’s, burying the Quansat Huts in Snow;
    we may have better luck with the space stations in point 5, only because we can use water to sheild small areas for emergency shelter; but even there it will be only short term rotations of station personnel;
    right now NASA and the US needs to save it’s HSF capabilities, so they should be concentrating on a medium weight heavy lifter (75 to 100mt to LEO), using the Shuttle technologies to develop the Earth Moon Infrastructure for exploiting the Natural Wealth of the Near Earth Astroids and the Moon, while supporting commercial space flight for LEO missions, until they can take over that Earth Moon Infrastructure in the latter half of the 21st century, leaving NASA to expand it’s exploration program to the Mars Outer Planet Infrastructure;
    then, sometime in the first half of the 22nd century, perhaps Man will leave our Solar System, while firmly settled on Mars, the Moon, and around the Inner Solar System; if you are in your 20’s now, there is a good chance you will live to see it happen;

  • NASA Fan

    I”m the government and I’m here to help you!

    Marcel, I hope by the use of the word ‘help’ in your above post , you really mean ‘empower’.

    When government/NASA works with industry, as in the typical government contractor arrangement, what I usually see is the government ‘forcing’ the contractor to do it ‘the government way’.

    Not a good recipe for innovation.

    Government should set policy, and let commercial ventures knock their socks off chasing X prize money.

    The Lincoln presidency saw the benefit to unifying the East and Western halves of the nation , and led the passage of laws that kicked off the Continental Railroad ‘race'; Private industry emerged, and made was paid per mile of completed track by the government. Private industry was thus ‘empowered’ . The government did not lay a single mile of track.

    If this is what you really mean by ‘help’ private industry, I’m all for it. Anything else is interference.

  • NASA Fan

    Thanks Robert and CharlesHouston:

    What I have seen from my little NASA knot hole, is the payload costs must be commensurate with the rocket/launch costs. To wit, you would never but a $150 million spacecraft on an $150M launch vehicle. $800 M yes.

    And you would never but a $800M payload on a $40M rocket.

    And if Space X is successful in their Falcon 1 and Falcon 9’s, I believe NASA will adjust and you will see more smaller less costly missions…..and maybe the flight rate will go up.

  • @ Dave Cadman

    The radiation hazard on the Moon shouldn’t be difficult to deal with at all since all you have to do is bury your habitat structures under 5 meters of lunar regolith. Robots could probably do that even before the first humans arrive to live in lunar habitat modules.

    Light sails are the key to manned interplanetary space travel, IMO, and the key towards the easy exploitation of small asteroids. Being able to capture and return small asteroids to Lagrange points via light sails should provide us with all of the oxygen, water, carbon, and mass shielding we need to survive in orbital space. The platinum resources of these asteroids could also be our first lucrative export from space to Earth.

  • @ NASA Fan

    “Marcel, I hope by the use of the word ‘help’ in your above post , you really mean ‘empower’.”

    I think the government needs to get on with the job of developing simpler space vehicles that could be a viable asset to NASA, the US military, and to private industry so that more Americans, and humans in general, can get safer and cheaper access to orbit. It would save private industry billions of dollars in rocket development cost, the kind of money that private industry has been so far unwilling to pay!

    Once such a SD-SSTOV, OTV, Light sails, and Lunar landers are developed, then private manufactures could sell them to NASA, the military, and to private US industries.

    Of course, we could continue to wait around until private industry finally decides to appropriately fund their manned space programs. But if we had waited around for private industry to figure out a way how they could make a quick profit by developing and launching the first satellites, we’d probably still be waiting to place our first satellite into orbit.

    Private industry has had more than 50 years to get into the manned space flight.

  • richardb

    Griffith Parker just announced he’s switching party ID to the GOP. Not that it matters all that much for Ares I. His former leadership doesn’t support manned Nasa activities all that much as Pelosi made crystal clear recently. While I don’t recall GOP leaders being as blunt as Pelosi in not supporting one of Nasa’s key programs, their financial support in fact hasn’t been all that great.

  • lee stewart

    Congressman Parker Griffith is now (R-AL)
    He announced today that he has switched and joined the republican party.

  • Lee Stewart

    Congress Parker Griffith is now (R-AL) ??????

    He anounced his switch to the republican party today
    ref link below:

  • Robert G. Oler

    richardb wrote @ December 22nd, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Griffith Parker just announced he’s switching party ID to the GOP…

    ah another nut joins the team. Odd thing is that someone on the really far right announced that he wasn’t conservative enough!

    As Obiewan would say …the politics of the force right now are very disturbed.

    Robert G. Oler

  • […] NASA versus the deficit – Space Politics […]

  • John

    I don’t agree Mr. Oler. the space program is very important. In addition, the space program does not cost that much. Also, why don’t we eliminate something else, like gambling??? I do not respect your view very much.

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