NASA Budget Woes: Panel Says Tell Us Something New

Forget Mars. Forget the moon. Norman Augustine tells the House Science Committee that the U.S. manned spaceflight program is doomed without a renewed financial commitment -- to the tune of billions of dollars -- from Congress. For NASA, it's the same old story: overseers who reach for the stars but provide funding that doesn't get the agency out of low orbit.

Tell us something new, members of the House Committee on Science and Technology told Norman Augustine and his much ballyhooed review of the U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee. Augustine, the former chairman of Lockheed Martin, was appointed by President Obama in May to chair the committee's 90-day review of NASA's future direction.
The committee finished its report earlier this month and concluded that the U.S. manned space program is underfunded with unrealistic goals, including plans to return to the moon or traveling to Mars.
"In the opinion [of the committee], as well as that of most of the persons with whom the committee has had contact, NASA has for too long sought to operate in an environment where means do not match ends. In the unforgiving arena of human spaceflight, this is a particularly hazardous policy to embrace," Augustine told lawmakers Sept. 15.
One of the committee's most important overall findings was that "human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit is not viable under the FY 2010 budget guideline." NASA has spent almost $6.9 billion on a 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 a month on the program. Augustine's committee estimated to even maintain the status quo at NASA, another $3 billion is needed.
"I have to say that I am extremely frustrated, in fact, I am angry," stated Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. "With all due respect to Mr. Augustine and his panel, I have to say that I think we are no further ahead in our understanding of what it will take to ensure a robust and meaningful human space flight program than we were before they started their review."
Giffords added that the review panel's conclusions were hardly surprising to the elected officials who annually struggle with NASA funding: There is a serious mismatch between the challenges that NASA has been asked to meet and the resources that have been provided to the agency. "In other words, we can't get anywhere worth going to under NASA's projected budgets. But we didn't need an independent commission to tell us that. That's been painfully obvious for some time now," Giffords said.
Rep. Bart Gordon, chairman of the Science and Technology Committee added, "I have made no secret in recent years of my belief that the resources given to NASA haven't kept pace with the important tasks that we have asked NASA to undertake. We either have to give NASA the resources that it needs or stop pretending that it can do all we've put on its plate. That's especially true for NASA's exploration program, and it's true for the rest of its important missions too."
Or, as Augustine testified, "The committee concludes that no rational exploratory program can be funded under the existing funding constraint and that plans for America's space exploration program would de facto be halted and human operations limited to low-Earth orbit."