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Bush Budget Supports Space Exploration

By | February 11, 2008

      President Bush’s federal government budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009, provides solid support for space exploration programs and for missile defense, experts said.

      Bush unveiled his NASA and Missile Defense Agency budget plans a week ago today. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, Feb. 4, 2008.)

      However, the Aeronautics Industries Association complained that the Bush budget short-changes aeronautics.

      "Exploration and NASA’s science activities are vital to maintaining our status as the world’s space leader," Marion Blakey, AIA president and CEO, said. "We need to continue making space a national priority and the administration’s budget does that."

      The NASA request has several bright spots within an overall increase of almost 3 percent, according to AIA. It covers continued space exploration priorities while boosting Earth observation efforts and the Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) program that provides incentive funds, but doesn’t pay for full costs of, private spaceship development.

      The fiscal 2009 NASA request totals $17.6 billion, an increase of 2.9 percent from fiscal 2008.

      NASA has a number of important undertakings in the next few years, including flying numerous scheduled flights before the space shuttle is retired in 2010 and developing the next generation U.S. spacecraft, the Orion crew exploration vehicle space capsule and the Ares rocket to lift it into orbit, in the Constellation Program.

      That’s on the bright side.

      But Blakey also deplored another point in the NASA budget, or rather something that isn’t in the budget: funding to reduce the half-decade period when the United States won’t even have a space program, because it won’t be able to place even one astronaut in low Earth orbit during that time.

      The current space shuttle fleet retires in 2010, and Orion-Ares won’t have its first manned flight until 2015, under current plans.

      "The scheduled five-year gap in U.S. human space flight is an area of extreme concern, since we will have to rely on Russia for access to the International Space Station," Blakey said.

      An alternative to that would arise if private investors fund development of private commercial spacecraft that could taxi U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station, and the NASA COTS program seeks to encourage such investment. The AIA noted approvingly that and it includes full funding of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services project.

      By encouraging privately owned spacecraft to re-supply the International Space Station, COTS is reinforcing the space program at a critical time, Blakey said.

      On other points, the NASA budget seeks congressional approval for $910 million over five years to fund five Earth observation systems.

      But Blakey voiced concerns on another part of the NASA budget, covering aeronautics programs.

      "Aeronautics research and development is significantly under-funded once again, affecting transitional research that enables technology from government labs to move to real- life applications," she said.

      Blakey added that the $447 million aeronautics request continues a lengthy trend of inadequate research and development funding.

      Even allowing for accounting changes that shifted agency-wide support costs from the R&D budget to a central fund, the amount pales in comparison to the height of aeronautics R&D investment — $1.54 billion in 1994.

      Missile Defense Solid

      Bush also provided solid financial support for the U.S. effort to erect a multi-layered shield against incoming enemy ballistic missiles, according to Loren Thompson, chief operating officer with the Lexington Institute, a think tank near the Pentagon focusing on defense and other issues.

      "Missile defense and related efforts such as a new missile-warning satellite remain high priorities for the Bush Administration, as they have been from the beginning," Thompson wrote in a brief.

      "The $11 billion sought for missile defense rivals in size the Navy’s anemic shipbuilding program, and that’s with some elements of missile defense not included."

      The solid backing for missile defense fits with Bush’s overall sterling support for the military in his defense-related budget requests, Thompson said.

      A $515 billion base defense budget, plus a $70 billion down-payment on costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus $21 billion of defense-related items in the Department of Energy, totals $606 billion, Thompson stated.

      Adjusted for inflation, he said, that is equal to more than the U.S. military spent in the first year of fighting World War II, greater by half (and then some) what President Clinton spent on defense in his final year in office, 2000, and more than the peak year of defense spending during the Korean War, and during the war in Vietnam.

      But Thompson noted that Pentagon enthusiasm for cutting-edge technologies has waned, and further, key transformation initiatives such as the Transformational Satellite Communications program and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) are slashed in the 2009 request. The LCS program was cut back amid cost overruns on the first two rival, competing copies of the LCS.

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