[FPSPACE] More on the NASA budget
zirconic1 at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 23 10:33:26 EST 2004
The NASA budget got approved on Saturday morning, meaning that almost nobody was paying attention and so naturally it is taking awhile for people to figure out exactly what is in the budget. The devil is always in the details--although the agency got "full funding," things like higher return to flight costs and the Hubble repair mission appeared in the summer, after the budget was already in process, meaning that this money had to come out of something else.
That something else appears to be the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which got some big cuts. This is actually not that surprising considering that there has been a low-level rumble among a number of people (including some on the Hill) that NASA was being too conventional in its approach to LRO. There were other options, such as putting American instruments on a foreign lunar orbiter, or offering to buy data rather than build a spacecraft. So these cuts might be a precursor to NASA taking a different approach to the mission. The article below only states that Congress told NASA to focus more of the mission on pure science rather than lunar applications. Perhaps it says nothing about taking a more innovative approach to the mission.
Budget ax falls on lunar probe
Shuttle workers breathing easier
BY JOHN KELLY
CAPE CANAVERAL -- Politics, Texas-style, led to NASA and its shuttle program getting their best treatment in decades from Congressional budget writers.
Behind the scenes arm-twisting by two Texans in high places -- President Bush and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- won NASA almost all of the money the space agency asked for in 2005 and morale-boosting job security for thousands of shuttle workers in Texas and Florida.
"This will enable NASA to start paying the bills for the shuttles' return to flight," DeLay told workers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday. "I am getting a little antsy to see the shuttle fly again. I know you won't fly until its safe, but I want to applaud all the efforts by you and the people in Florida to make it happen."
Through a hectic weekend of politicking, all NASA learned was its friends in Congress somehow convinced colleagues to support the agency's full request for $16.2 billion -- with threats of a presidential veto hanging over their heads if Bush's moon-Mars plan did not get full funding.
By Monday, poring over devilish details, agency leaders learned just how big a victory they'd won. Not only did the shuttle get record funding, $4.3 billion, the agency got the flexibility to move money around to pay for safety fixes necessary after the 2003 Columbia accident that killed seven astronauts.
Furthermore, Congressional budget-writers expressed willingness in 2005 to provide additional emergency funds so fixes are not left undone for financial reasons.
In practical terms, that left shuttle workers breathing easier Monday, though a select few managers spoke publicly. Most will wait for their boss, Administrator Sean O'Keefe, to react first. That's set to happen this morning.
Employees of NASA and shuttle contractor United Space Alliance fretted over Congressional threats to cut the budget. Worried managers already were looking at repercussions, including layoffs at Kennedy Space Center.
"With budgets, you're always worrying about whether you have to do something," said Mike McCulley, the former astronaut who now runs United Space Alliance. "We have no plans for any radical layoffs or large layoffs. We're focused on return to flight and we feel we have a workforce that's about the right size, at least for the next year or so."
Congress did not act without conditions.
Concerned about NASA's ability to control costs because of multi-billion dollar cost overruns on the International Space Station, Congress asked for a litany of status reports and set some priorities.
Budget documents say Congress' top priority is the safe shuttle flights. Within a month of Discovery's launch -- now set for May 2005 -- the agency must report to Congress on the cost and schedule of completing construction of the space station. It also must outline plans for the spaceship to replace the shuttle, the Crew Exploration Vehicle.
Congress gave NASA money to develop the new spaceship. However, leaders cautioned they "do not want a repeat of the mistakes of the International Space Station, where poor management and lack of independent oversight resulted in major cost overruns."
To that end, Congress demanded an independent committee to oversee development of the new spaceship. The panel will report monthly to O'Keefe and Congressional space committees.
NASA got about $200 million to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, a follow-up to O'Keefe's intention not to fly astronauts on a shuttle to repair the telescope. NASA now plans to send a robot to Hubble's aid.
One of the most severe cuts came at the expense of robotic exploration of the moon.
Congress cut all but $10 million from the planned Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, which was to map the moon and attempt to find water ice that could be critical to human missions. Fearing NASA would cut science programs to fund human exploration, the Congress demanded 25 percent of the instruments on the lunar satellite to be aimed at pure science, not future operations.
Richard Vondrak, director of the lunar robotic explorer program at NASA Headquarters, had told FLORIDA TODAY earlier that such cuts could force scaling back or delaying the flight.
Even after Bush's threatened veto, DeLay and allies in Congress had to fight moves to slash the NASA spending. The House froze spending on most non-defense and non-security projects.
But just before midnight Friday, 24 hours ahead of a deadline for Congress to pass a budget, DeLay threatened to not let his colleagues vote on the budget if NASA did not get all its money.
For the first time anyone could remember, NASA was a deciding factor in a budget deal, according to DeLay and U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Melbourne.
"To quote Mr. O'Keefe," said JSC Director Jefferson Howell, "the leader was a champ."
Politics was key, as it was when another powerful Texan, Lyndon Johnson, fought for the money and resources needed to fulfill President Kennedy's call to put men on the moon.
The 2000 redrawing of Congressional districts shifted DeLay's district to include the Johnson Space Center. However, DeLay said he's always been a "space nut" and resolved to fight long-term for funding space exploration.
"We still have our battles to fight, engineers and legislators both," DeLay said. "For NASA, a day without a challenge is like a night without stars."
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