While President Obama’s 2010 NASA budget drew praise from NASA officials May 7, not everyone is happy with the $18.69 billion allocated to America’s space program. The budget request is an increase of $903.6 million, or 5 percent, above funding provided in former President Bush’s last NASA budget.
In addition to continued “robust” funding of manned space flights, NASA said the budget will advance global climate change research with investments in Earth science research satellites, airborne sensors, computer models and analysis. Obama’s budget also continues NASA’s commitment to aeronautics research to address aviation safety, air traffic control, noise and emissions reduction, and fuel efficiency.
At a press briefing May 7, Ed Weiler, the associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate, said, “We’re very pleased with this budget.”
Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham wasn’t. Nor was Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who once spent six days orbiting Earth as a payload specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.
“The NASA budget proposal is disappointingly business as usual. Despite what appears to be an increase to the top line, the NASA budget continues a more-than-two-decade decline in real, inflation-adjusted dollars,” Pulham said in a statement.
Nelson said the increased budget was a step in the right direction for the space agency but warned that Obama’s planned spending after 2010 is a disappointment. Nelson’s concerns are mostly centered on the future of the end of the space shuttle program. Obama’s budget allows for the shuttle fleet to complete its eight scheduled missions to the International Space Station by the end of 2010, when the fleet is scheduled to be mothballed.
“But down the road the administration’s budget does not match what candidate Obama said about the future of our space program,” Nelson said in a statement. “Still, he’s assured me these numbers are subject to change, pending a review he has ordered of NASA.”
The outside review ordered for NASA will re-examine NASA’s replacement plans for the space shuttle fleet and whether it might be better to bypass the moon in favor of missions farther out into the solar system. Bush introduced the moon program in the wake of the 2003 Columbia accident.
NASA has already spent almost $6.9 billion on the plan to be back on the moon by 2020 to establish a lunar outpost for future space expeditions, and the agency continues to spend $300 million per month on the program.
“On a potentially positive note, the White House decision to conduct an independent review of the Constellation program and options for the best way forward might at least be interpreted as evidence that this administration is, indeed, interested in the nation’s space agency,” Pelham said. “Unfortunately, NASA still has no administrator. But this is not for lack of effort by the White House, which has gotten near the finish line with an administrator candidate on at least four occasions only to see those potential nominations collapse at the eleventh hour.”