Wednesday, January 11, 2006

NASA Budget On The Chopping Block?

Our aspirations for the space program are based on the dream that one day humans will travel to the far reaches of The Heliosphere. It's frustrating therefore when domestic politics threatens those dreams.

This Bloomberg News story (here) says that NASA's human space program might be cut to help bring America's fiscal house in order.
"The budget office also aims to reduce spending on the Space Shuttle program, slicing as much as $6 billion from the projected cost of almost $70 billion in the next four years.

Illustrating the resistance to budget cuts, members of Congress from Texas and Florida, where two of NASA's largest facilities are located, are seeking to head off trims. Republicans including former Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson have written to Bush or spoken with Bolten in the past few weeks. DeLay also has lobbied Vice President Dick Cheney, according to DeLay spokesman Ben Porritt.

A reduction of as much $6 billion ``would mean the immediate retirement of the Shuttle Atlantis and a cut of the needed 19 Shuttle missions to between eight and 11 through fiscal 2010,'' a letter signed by 36 lawmakers said."

Parochial politics will play a part in how NASA's manned space program fares. Tom DeLay (The Hammer) is fast losing power in the House and he has been a powerful advocate of human space exploration. Readers of conservative commentators and websites know that Republicans in Congress and especially conservatives have reached the limit of their tolerance for big spending and big government and a move is afoot among them to return to their small-government roots. The President's Vision for Space Exploration was targeted for cuts late last year by a fiscally conservative group of Congressmembers. That effort failed. It helped to have The Hammer on NASA's side.

But that was then.

Now it is very much up in the air who will lead the House Republicans after February 2d, when the caucus is scheduled to vote. What is clear is that a revolt against big spending and big government is brewing again among the majority party in Congress. So long as the human space program is viewed as non-essential government spending its budget will be vulnerable when pennywise budgeteers start looking for places to save money.

-tdr

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