Unlike last year, President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for NASA in the coming fiscal year includes no great policy changes. In keeping with the President’s propose to freeze domestic spending it comes out to $18.7 billion dollars for fiscal year 2012.
The outline of the budget proposal pretty much accepts the priorities set down in the bipartisan NASA authorization act passed last year. It promises to maintain the International Space Station. It would continue to build the heavy lift rocket and exploration vehicle, mentioning a visit to an asteroid “next decade.” There is a nod to the commercial space initiative that would provide subsidies to commercial companies to build Earth to low Earth orbit space transports. The budget would fund space science and robotic exploration. It would also fund Earth science and aeronautics. There is also mention of a green energy initiative for NASA service centers.
Of the accounts, space station operations, commercial space and Earth science are increased. The rest, especially the space exploration program, are deeply cut.
The one big problem with the President’s NASA budget proposal is that it seems to be more responsive to the last Congress, with which the administration had a tussle over its cancellation of the Constellation space exploration program and the doubling down on the George W. Bush era Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems (COTS) program. The current Congress already proposes to cut the current fiscal year NASA budget to just over $18.4 billion. $18.7 billion next year may be a little too high for the current Congress to swallow, all things considered.
The Obama NASA budget does not address some of the flaws of the space policy that was rolled out last year. The idea of bypassing the moon and going to an asteroid is still an unwise goal if one wants to mount a sustainable program of human space exploration. The moon has an abundance of frozen water that can be used to sustain a settlement and provide rocket fuel for deeper space missions. The moon has some resources, such as Helium 3, that might prove useful for the energy needs of human civilization. The budget just ignores those facts.
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