Augustine Committee Identifies Shortfalls in NASA Budget

Share This

Publication date: 
11 September 2009

A twelve-page Summary Report by the “Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee”is certain to attract the notice of  Capitol Hill, the Administration, and the science and space communities.  In carefully considered language, the summary states:

“In fact, the Committee finds that no plan compatible with the FY 2010 budget profile permits human exploration to continue in any meaningful way.”

In reaching this conclusion, the committee, chaired by Norman Augustine, reaffirmed a message that has long been apparent  in testimony to House and Senate committees: previous budget requests and resulting congressional appropriations have been inadequate to meet NASA’s needs.  As House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) said when the summary was released earlier this week: “NASA has not been given resources matched to the tasks it has been asked to undertake.”

The full Augustine committee report, to be issued later this month, will more fully explain the committee’s thinking.  The committee considered a number of funding options, and found: “The remaining three alternatives are fit to a different budget profile – one that the Committee judged more appropriate for an exploration program designed to carry humans beyond low-Earth orbit.  This budget increases to $3 billion above the FY 2010 guidance by FY 2014, then grows with inflation at a more reasonable 2.4 percent per year.”

This budget profile varies greatly with the figures in NASA’s “FY 2010 Budget Request Summary.”  It showed a total FY 2010 agency request of $18,686 million and a projected FY 2014 figure of $18,858 million – an increase of $172 million.

The disparity might not be this large.   A careful reading of the “Charter of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee” finds that under “Scope and Objectives” the objective of “fitting within the current budget profile for NASA exploration activities.”The Augustine committee’s Summary Report  does not specify if the “FY 2010 budget profile” and “the FY 2010 guidance” refer to the total agency budget or only to the Exploration budget.  If the latter,  the variance is not as large.  The FY 2010 Exploration request was $3,963.1 million, with a  projected FY 2014 figure of $6,195.3 million – an increase of $2,232.2 million that is about 25 percent (or $768 million) less than the committee recommended.  An important footnote in the NASA budget request explains: “Following the human spaceflight review, the Administration will provide an updated request for Exploration activities reflecting the review’s results.”A statement on the committee’s website (see URL below) notes: “NASA is working with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and other representatives of the Executive Office of the President to plan the next steps leading to a decision by the President about future U.S. human space flight policy.”

This $3 billion recommendation will be discussed next week when Norman Augustine testifies before the House Science and Technology Committee and a subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.  Also appearing, at different hearings, will the former and current NASA administrators.

A future FYI will discuss other findings and recommendations in the Summary Report, including the advantages of international partnerships, the commercial space industry, the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the growing gap when its replacement will fly, the utilization of the International Space Station, and future destinations for exploration.

The Summary Report is available at the committee’s website.