[FPSPACE] NASA plan to cost $229 billion
zirconic1 at earthlink.net
Wed Apr 28 10:27:53 EDT 2004
I'm not sure how he arrived at these figures, but here they are.
Moon-Mars cost estimate is too high
NASA price tag at $229 billion, not $1 trillion
BY TODD HALVORSON
CAPE CANAVERAL -- Mistaken as gospel and spread around the country by countless news outlets outside of Brevard County, an oft-quoted but flawed trillion-dollar cost estimate is coloring public opinion on President Bush's plan to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020, and it's swaying election-year political debates.
A more realistic estimate: $229 billion over the next 16 years.
That's how much NASA expects to be available to carry out the plan, according to a FLORIDA TODAY review of agency budget projections for the years 2005 through 2020.
The figure would constrain NASA spending to its current share of the U.S. federal budget, which is less than a penny of every taxpayer dollar that will be sent to Washington -- a funding level Americans consistently have supported in past public opinion polls.
The annual cost to U.S. taxpayers in 2004 dollars: About $50 each.
"It's not a budget buster," NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe told aerospace industry officials at a recent conference in Colorado Springs, Colo. "This is an affordable program."
Agency officials say the money would cover, among other things:
* Returning NASA's shuttles to space and finishing the International Space Station.
* Building a new piloted spaceship for missions beyond Earth orbit, and employing existing rockets or a shuttle-derived vehicle to launch crews and cargo.
* Sending robotic scouts to the moon, a proving ground for subsequent missions to Mars or other destinations.
* Developing nuclear power and propulsion systems for human expeditions beyond the moon.
The $1 trillion estimate cropped up in a wire service story published before Bush's Jan. 14 announcement at NASA headquarters in Washington.
The story cited no source for the figure, but it took on a life of its own. The number was repeated in newspaper, radio and television news reports from coast to coast. The presidential campaign of Democratic challenger John Kerry even parroted the figure in a report aimed at portraying Bush as an excessive spender.
"It's a number without pedigree or foundation," said Paul Spudis, a member of the presidential commission overseeing NASA's effort to implement the moon-Mars initiative.
He also said the erroneous estimate has dampened public support for the plan.
"Of course it has, especially since many media stories constantly hype it and harp on it," said Spudis, a planetary geologist from Johns Hopkins University near Baltimore.
"A trillion dollars is real money -- by anybody's definition. Also, any media mention of cost is invariably a negative one and is never put into any kind of context. So the cumulative effect is to decrease support for the initiative."
In reality, the plan calls for a modest increase in NASA's budget over the next five years -- an average of $200 million annually.
The agency would shift another $11 billion from existing programs during that time.
Beyond that, agency planners assume NASA's budget will rise about 2 percent annually over the 11 years that follow.
Said O'Keefe: "The budget projections indicate that the exploration vision can be implemented within a NASA budget that merely keeps pace with inflation" after 2009.
A precondition for the Bush plan is putting in place a program that is "sustainable and affordable," administration code words for one that could be carried out within constraints of the agency's current annual share of the federal budget, which is 0.7 percent.
"We're taking that to heart," said NASA Space Architect Gary Martin. "We're looking at laying out a strategic program that really allows us to do that."
In contrast, NASA's share of the federal budget was 4 percent during the Apollo moon-landing project in the 1960s.
"Today, we spend less than 1 percent of the national budget on civil space activities, and these activities pay for themselves seven times over," O'Keefe said.
Agency projections show NASA from 2005 through 2020 expects to have $315 billion that could be used to implement not only the moon-Mars initiative but also pay for critical aeronautics, science, education and other programs that round out the agency's mission.
Some $229 billion of that money would go to returning the shuttles to flight, completing the station and carrying out the rest of the moon-Mars initiative.
In comparison, NASA would spend about $259 billion during the next 16 years even if its current $16.2 billion annual budget remained fixed.
A NASA budget that kept pace with inflation, rising about 2 percent each year, would provide the agency with $302 billion during that same period.
Given the projected allotment, O'Keefe -- a former White House deputy budget director who reined in a $5 billion space station cost overrun after joining NASA in late 2001 -- said he's confident that the agency can do the job.
"We put a lot of thought into how we can advance this policy in a very practical and responsible manner," he said. "We can do this."
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