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E.T. Phone Home

February 1, 2010

(Updated below the fold)

I don’t get to give myself props on predicting that the Feds would try to cut NASA’s budget as a money-saving measure considering that I didn’t write anything about it, but trust me—I called it:

The Obama administration Monday abandoned plans to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon, promising a “bold new course for human space flight” but providing no details.

Last year, an outside panel said the $100 billion moon program started under the Bush administration didn’t have enough money to do all it proposed. The administration determined that the Constellation program wouldn’t be able to return astronauts to the moon until well into the 2030s, more than 10 years behind schedule. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has already spent $9.1 billion on the program.

But let’s not toot my own horn too quickly.  What’s all that “bold new course for human space flight” stuff?  My knee-jerk reaction is that the plan is to cut spending on useless forays into space without actually saying, “we’re cutting spending on useless forays into space”.  Then again, who actually has a problem with not going to the moon again?  Is the Administration wary of the rarely-seen-but-much-feared “NASA employee voting bloc”?  The NYT has a different explanation:

Under the proposal, NASA’s budget would rise to $19 billion in the 2011 fiscal year from $18.7 billion. It would also get additional increases in subsequent years, reaching $21 billion in 2015. In total, NASA would receive $100 billion over the next five years.

The rest of the soothsayers and I all thought that NASA’s belt would be tightened—especially after the non-military and non-entitlement spending freeze that just reeked of cuts to extraterrestrial programs—because, of all the things to which the Feds have committed taxpayer dollars, the space program would be the easiest thing to let go, particularly for a Democratic administration.  To reiterate: who really cares about NASA’s budget?  Anyone?  Surely not anyone significant enough to have an impact in November (and don’t call me Shirley).

Apparently, the Administration does.  It’s unclear what’s going to happen to that $90 billion that we didn’t spend on the moon program, but the NYT says that instead of using the program’s dissolution as an opportunity to scale back NASA across the board, its budget will increase during the next five years.  What’s also unclear is why:

The budget is much more about spending closer to Earth. It promises a speeding up of launching new Earth’s observing satellites, especially to monitor climate change. It includes money to fly a replacement for a carbon-dioxide monitoring satellite that fell into the ocean last year instead of going into orbit.

That’s it?  Call me a skeptic, but there has to be something political behind this.  We’re going to gut one program (yay) to spend more on something else of negligible benifit (boo)?  Are the Feds just that incapable of cutting spending, or are these things truly necessary for the sake of our country?

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that the Administration wants to “us[e] much of that money for new rocket technology research”.  Good to know we’re not going to save anything from this venture.  Also, Richard Shelby called the move the “death march for the future of U.S. human space flight.”  Thanks for your helpful input, man.

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