A consistent theme running through this year's congressional hearings on the FY 2007 NASA request is the lack of sufficient funding for the agency's science programs. At a recent Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin acknowledged that budget constraints had forced the redirection of funds from the Science and Exploration programs (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/052.html.) A recent NRC report concluded the proposed Earth and space science program is not robust, sustainable, or balanced (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/060.html.)
This week, House Science Committee Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Ranking Member Mark Udall (D-CO) sent a four-page letter to the leadership of the House appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the NASA budget. In this letter to appropriations subcommittee chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Ranking Member Alan Mollohan (D-WV), Gordon and Udall fault the NASA budget request for being more than a billion dollars under what Congress and the Bush Administration authorized. Referring to the Moon/Mars and beyond exploration initiative, Gordon and Udall declare, "We have been consistent in our stated position that we support the goals of the exploration initiative, but that we are not prepared to support an implementation approach for that initiative that is predicated on the cannibalization of NASA's other important missions."
They later state: "We believe that failure to provide the funds necessary to carry out a balanced program of R&D in science, aeronautics, and human space flight would call into question the wisdom of proceeding with the exploration initiative as currently conceived. Congress would be ill-advised to start down the road of making large investments in the hardware and systems needed for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit - for which the magnitude of the required investment will increase dramatically in the period beyond the current five-year NASA budget plan - in the absence of a national consensus to provide the necessary resources."
The letter's final paragraph outlines how to pay for an increase of $587.4 million in the FY 2007 NASA budget which Gordon and Udall recommend. They conclude, "It is our position that if it proves impossible to augment the FY 2007 budget request with additional funds, budgetary ‘offsets' should be made from the Exploration Systems budget to fund the above-mentioned priorities. In that regard, we believe that making progress on the development of new crewed and cargo systems to replace the Space Shuttle is a higher near-term priority than activities in support of human expeditions to the Moon and Mars. At the same time, we would not recommend augmenting funding for the Constellation program beyond the request level given the absence of well defined cost and schedule estimates at this point in the program. In any event, full funding of the Constellation program budget request should be dependent on first ensuring that the scientific and aeronautics priorities outlined above are adequately funded."
This letter and a list of thirteen recommended increases to the Science, Aeronautics, and Education appropriations account, and the Exploration Systems and Space Operations appropriations account can be viewed at: http://sciencedems.house.gov/
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice and Commerce is scheduled to mark up its bill the week of June 12.