Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Bush Vision For NASA Budget Exploration

by Tom Bozzo

Writing at the almost always misnamed Total Drek, Slag reviews the now-with-professional-looking-artwork Bush moon mission and, well, yawns.

With a $104 billion 13-year price tag announced the week after it's been made clear that unprecedented amounts of federal money will clean up after the most expensive natural disaster in the country's history, I think I can safely upgrade my previous idle speculation that the Bushist space exploration vision [sic] is in fact a mission to discover NASA's minimum possible funding level to the status of a theory that will require significant legislative action to dislodge.

As we are occasionally wont to do, let's look at some public statements and budget numbers.

1. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin vigorously denies that Katrina relief will cancel NASA. As quoted in the Washington Post:
"But the space program is a long-term investment in our future. We must deal with our short-term problems while not sacrificing our long-term investments in our future. When we have a hurricane, we don't cancel the Air Force. We don't cancel the Navy. And we're not going to cancel NASA."
There are enough space geeks and space pork beneficiaries in Congress, including on the Republican side of the aisle, to keep that from happening anyway. Note that you don't need to eliminate NASA outright for the purposes of my theory.

2. Griffin states that NASA will live within its $16 billion budget (in constant dollars) "and not 'one thin dime' will be taken from science projects."

3. Statement 2 is basically impossible. Let's turn to the NASA budget. The moon mission as proposed will require a nice round $8 billion in annual average funding from now to the 2018 moon landing. This money just ain't there. In FY 2006, the NASA budget request is $16.5 billion. Excluding all of its budget categories with no nexus with the moon mission (space operations, aeronautics research, education, science excluding the "Solar System Exploration" line, and the "Exploration Systems" lines not directed to human spaceflight), there's only $3.86 billion (current dollars). A sizeable chunk of that is required for the robotic Solar System missions that generate the actual space science.

Even in FY 2010, at which point the planned retirement of the Space Shuttle will require that the RDT&E for the Crew Exploration Vehicle and its launcher, as well as a replacement cargo vehicle and its launcher, be well on its way lest the Russians and Chinese be awarded a duopoly in human spaceflight capability (*), there's only $6.37 billion (in FY 2010 dollars) available, and again that includes all of the Solar System Science money.

So go figure: by advanced mathematics, NASA will need more money or the science budgets will be raided. Or, the science budgets will still be raided and it'll be determined that there's no way Congress will shell out $100 billion to go back to the moon.

One upshot is that if you want to be a hero of libertarian space exploration, write an 11-figure check and mail to 1624 Flight Line, Mojave, CA 93501.

(*) That outcome is undesirable mainly to the extent of the weight one puts on the point of national pride.
Possibly not just a question of national pride. Suborbital "defensive" missiles have been the stuff of science fact articles for quite a while (not to mention a not-so-secret bugaboo of the "subsidized-by-the-governemnt-libertarian" community).

While I don't believe the marginal cost of a manned presence can be justified from a risk management basis, the advantage in the event that someone screws up badly is not zero.
Ken, I probably should have originally written "duopoly of civilian human spaceflight capability." I expect USAF can see to its real or perceived needs on the military side.
"...almost always misnamed...?"

Better knock it off, Tom, or Slag and I will get swelled heads.

Nice post, though, and your read on this matches mine.
Drek, thanks. I put in the "almost always" because I didn't want to completely undermine your blog identity.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?