NASA isn’t just about reliving old glories.
The agency has grand plans for future deep space exploration, and says it can even accelerate development of new, heavy-life spacecraft ahead of the early 2020s, but there’s a catch: It needs $65 billion, a nearly 80 percent increase over the current price tag, according to The Wall Street Journal, which has obtained a NASA budget analysis prepared for The White House.
Unsurprisingly, given the current fiscal climate, the White House isn’t especially keen about the idea.
“We must ensure that every dollar spent in this area is used effectively and efficiently,” a spokeswoman for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget told The Journal.
She diplomatically added that the agency would “continue to work with NASA to better understand the costs” and eventually decide on a plan that is “practicable and executable over the long term.”
The long term vision has changed since the retirement of the space shuttle in July and President Obama’s earlier decision to scrap its replacement, the overbudget and delayed Constellation program to return to the moon (into which $10 billion had already been sunk).
NASA’s response was to recycle parts of that program into the proposed Space Launch System rockets, which would test launch in 2017 and take the Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) and a crew on a flyby of the moon in 2021.
President Obama in April 2010 called for an extra $6 billion to be allocated to NASA to expand upon that mission and land astronauts on an asteroid in 2025, despite protestations from some in the press that such a timetable was unrealistic. (NASA was granted that amount in the 2011 budget).
The original plan’s price tag has increased to an estimated $38 billion, and now NASA says even with that money it won’t be able to land on the moon (only orbit) and its spacecraft will only fly twice during that entire time, according to a report by The Orlando Sentinel on Aug. 5.
For their part, lawmakers in Congress want NASA to go faster with less: Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) sent a letter to the agency in January demanding it build and launch a new heavy lift rocket by 2016 re-using the engines of the now-defunct space shuttle.
NASA says it definitely can’t make that timetable for $35 billion, but apparently -according to the latest report in The Journal - it’ll stand a chance with $62 billion.
NASA’s current budget (for FY2011) is $19 billion and calls for $100 billion in total spending over the next five years. The additional $28 billion being discussed would come on top of this amount.
The Journal reports that President Obama is expected to announce which of several space policies the White House supports in the “next few weeks.”
Combined with the proposed axing of the similarly overbudget and delayed James Webb Space Telescope (successor to Hubble), the new report suggests that NASA is facing some financial serious hardship ahead.