June 20, 2013
NASA Budget Cuts Could Threaten Asteroid Retrieval, Manned Mars Missions
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
NASA missions designed to send astronauts to Mars and capture an asteroid for closer analysis could be in danger due to a new bill in the House of Representatives that would cap spending at the US space agency.
According to FoxNews.com, the draft spending bill would drop funding for the proposed asteroid retrieval and relocation project while limiting NASA´s spending to approximately $16.87 billion over the next two years.
The House Science space subcommittee draft authorization bill would also "overhaul the agency´s management structure and raise the spending cap for Commercial Crew activities while increasing congressional oversight of the program," explained Dan Leone of SpaceNews.
"The bill, as Republican lawmakers have been hinting during House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearings all year, also aims to steer the nation's human spaceflight program back to the Moon, and provide more money for robotic exploration of the solar system at the expense of NASA´s Earth observation program," he added.
SpaceNews obtained a copy of the NASA Authorization Act of 2013 on June 14, Leone said, and learned that the bill would hold NASA to spending levels established by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
The House Science space subcommittee began discussing the bill in a hearing that started on Wednesday, and the Senate Commerce Committee was reportedly working on a similar bill that would not hold the US space agency to sequestered spending limits. That bill is expected to be released sometime this week.
It was during Wednesday's House hearing for the bill that the future of NASA´s manned mission to Mars was called into question, as former Lockheed Martin executive vice president Thomas Young said that the agency would "never" be able to place a man on the Red Planet with their current budget restrictions.
According to Slashgear's Craig Lloyd, Young said that "there is no credible plan or budget" for proposed manned flights to Mars or the moon, as well as for the planned asteroid relocation mission. Likewise, Steven Squyres, testified that NASA "is being asked to do too much with too little" and that unless the administration's budget was increased to meet the program´s content, "the result will be wasted effort and delay."
The bill also contains no funding for a crewed planetary lander or deep-space astronaut habitat in the bill, Leone said, and it included a provision that would change NASA's leadership structure. Those changes would allow Congress to have more say in the selection of the NASA administrator and attach a six-year term to the position. Currently, the administrator is a political appointee selected solely by the US President.
"Also on the human spaceflight front, the draft authorization act the House Science Committee has produced authorizes up to $700 million a year for the Commercial Crew Program, which under the 2010 NASA Authorization Act was cleared for up to $500 million in annual funding," Leone added. "A signature Obama administration effort, the Commercial Crew Program seeks to get at least one privately developed crew transportation system ready to launch astronauts to the international space station by the end of 2017."