February 14, 2011

Obama Keeps NASA Budget Small In 2012 Proposal

President Barack Obama restricted NASA expenses on Monday as he sent his 2012 budget blueprint to Congress calling for a five-year freeze on new spending at the U.S. space agency.

The president's budget will restrict NASA's budget to last year's level, $18.7 billion annually through fiscal 2016.  The figure represents a 1.6-percent decrease from the spending total the agency had sought for fiscal 2011, which ends in September.

"This budget reflects the overall fiscal reality of the US government. There is not a lot of money available," John Logsdon, a former director of the Space Policy Institute in Washington, told the AFP news agency on Monday.

"It should not compromise what NASA wants to do but it certainly would slow it down," said Logsdon, an independent consultant to the Obama administration. "They intend to do everything, just it will be a slightly slower schedule."
A final U.S. budget for 2011 has not been approved because Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on spending levels in last November's mid-term election.  Obama and other Democrats at that time decided to maintain 2010 levels.

However, Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and they are vowing massive spending cuts for the remainder of fiscal 2011 and beyond.

One administration official told AFP: "We don't know what NASA will get in 2011."

About half of Obama's proposed 2012 NASA budget is dedicated to space operations and exploration systems including $2.9 billion for the development of a heavy launcher and a space capsule intended for missions beyond low Earth orbit.

The heavy launcher will be crucial for sending astronauts to an asteroid of Mars, but also to the International Space Station (ISS), as NASA's shuttle program comes to an end.

There has been $7 billion earmarked for work aimed at making the new heavy launcher operational by 2016.

However, NASA has not yet determined the architecture of the system, nor when it will be operational.  The goal of 2016 is unlikely though.

A major theme of this budget is to maintain access for American astronauts at the ISS whose use has been extended to 2020.

After the final flights of the three-decade-old space shuttle program, the U.S. would depend on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to carry U.S. astronauts to the ISS until a successor to the shuttle is developed.

Obama's budget would continue to push for commercial partnership to develop reliable access to the ISS.

"You cannot predict what is going to happen," Logsdon told AFP. "The new conservative Republicans are going to say there is too much money for space and you have to cut more."


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