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NASA Lacks Money To Run Its Programs, Study Finds

By | May 8, 2006

      NASA isn’t able to pay for its existing and planned programs, a new congressionally mandated study concludes.
      Focusing on NASA space and earth science programs, for example, the study found they are not sustainable at planned funding levels.
      The National Research Council (NRC), part of the National Academies, said NASA faces a fiscal bind, lacking sufficient funds to pay for a vigorous science program, completing the International Space Station and returning humans to the moon.
      President Bush in 2004 called for completion of the space station, a return to the moon by 2020, and then a manned mission to Mars.
      But the new study says the money for science programs, the space station and moon mission isn’t there in sufficient sums.
      This is not a financial problem facing only NASA. Rather, a lack of funds is endemic throughout space and defense programs, in a government swimming in an ocean of red ink created by enormous federal budget deficits.
      For example, an analyst said recently that the Bush administration isn’t providing the armed forces with sufficient funds needed to meet procurement and other defense needs fully, because the administration gives higher priority to other goals such as tax cuts.
      Under administration fiscal policies, defense spending is set to tumble to 3.1 percent of gross domestic product, or U.S. economic output, from about 3.7 percent, according to Loren Thompson, chief operating officer with the Lexington Institute, a think tank near Washington that focuses on defense and other issues.
      The new NRC report describes the lack of funding for NASA, particularly a shortage of financing required for "a vigorous science program, the International Space Station and return to the moon."
      An expert described the disconnect between the NASA goals and the amount of financial support going to the agency.
      "There is a mismatch between what NASA has been assigned to do and the resources with which it has been provided," said Lennard Fisk. He chaired the committee that wrote the report, and he also is the Thomas Donahue collegiate professor of space science at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
      "We are particularly concerned that the shortfall in funding for science has fallen disproportionately on small missions and on funding for basic research and technology," Fisk said.
      "These actions run the risk of disrupting the pipeline of human capital and technology that is essential for the future success of the space program."
      Over the years, concerns have been voiced that the government isn’t supporting basic and applied research programs, meaning the United States may not remain on the cutting edge of technological innovation in the 21st century.
      The NRC focused on the NASA research shortcomings in the next five years.
      One problem area is space science, which includes astrophysics, heliophysics, planetary science and astrobiology.
      Another area of concern is earth science, and the NRC also focused on microgravity life and physical sciences.
      "The committee found that the program proposed for space and earth sciences is neither robust nor sustainable, and that it is not properly balanced to support a healthy mix of small, moderate-sized and large missions."
      To resolve these problems, the NRC committee recommends increasing funding for NASA science programs.
      NRC committee members recommend that "NASA restore small missions, research and analysis programs, and technology investment in the future missions."
      As well, the NRC panel recommends that NASA should preserve ground-based and flight research required to support long-duration human space flight. While the moon is less than 300,000 miles from Earth, Mars is tens of millions of miles distant, with the gap depending on the changing relative positions of Earth and the red planet. That can mean a very long trip during which humans aboard a spacecraft would have to be sustained.
      However, this funding problem may not be all that difficult to solve, at least in the sciences area.
      "For space and earth sciences, the [NRC} committee concluded that the short-term resource [money] allocation problem is modest," the report stated, adding that the money shortage is "probably slightly more than 1 percent of the total NASA budget."
      Similarly, turning to the microgravity life and physical sciences programs, the money needed to resolve the problem likely would be less than 1 percent of annual NASA outlays, the NRC panel concluded.

      Lockheed Gains $379 Million Army Pact For 112 PAC-3 Missiles

      The Army gave Lockheed Martin Corp. a $379 million contract for 112 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles, the company announced.
      The contract also includes launcher modification kits, program management and engineering, and spares and other necessary equipment.
      The PAC-3 Missile is currently the world’s only fielded hit-to-kill, pure kinetic energy air defense missile, according to Lockheed.
      Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control is the prime contractor on the PAC-3 Missile Segment upgrade to the Patriot air defense system.
      The upgrade consists of the PAC-3 Missile, a highly agile hit-to-kill interceptor, the PAC-3 Missile canister (which holds four missiles), a fire solution computer and an enhanced launcher electronics system.
      Over the past 12 years, the PAC-3 Missile has achieved the most successful flight test record of any U.S. missile defense interceptor, according to the company.
      The PAC-3 Missile has been selected as the primary interceptor for the multi-national Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS).


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