This is in regard to the struggles surrounding NASA’s budget request for 2007. From media accounts, it appears that the Bush administration is abandoning the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) that it proposed barely two years ago. Let’s recall how we got here. Just one year ago, the administration used the threat of a veto to urge Congress to fully fund NASA and the VSE. It was a close fight, but ultimately, the administration won. Now, as we begin 2006 , NASA is facing a crisis in the transition from the space shuttle to the VSE. More funds are needed over the next five years if this country is to avoid several disagreeable options in its space program.
Now that members of Congress appear to have embraced the vision , it is the administration that appears to be reluctant to support the renewed spirit of discovery.
Apparently, the administration is beginning to pull back from its initial pledge to increase NASA’s budget to $18 billion by 2009. With its buying power shrinking, NASA’s administrator is being put into a difficult position. His focus is ensuring that the new Crew Exploration Vehicle and Crew Launch Vehicle are firmly in place within the next few years.
However, Mr. Griffin also is under pressure to complete the international space station. This requires a robust launch flow of shuttles over the next five years. Furthermore, if adequate funds are devoted to these areas of manned spaceflight, then monetary pressures will be put on space science. The country was assured, when the new vision was proposed, that funds from space science would not be diverted to shore up the VSE.
This is of concern because there are several exciting robotic missions of discovery and exploration NASA is planning whose budgets could be threatened — missions like the James Webb Space Telescope, the Space Interferometry Mission and the Terrestrial Planet Finder. There also are many more proposed missions NASA should be doing that might never be fully funded like missions to Europa and Titan and a Mars Sample Return or more robots and even airplanes to explore Mars.
These are all missions of the greatest interest to scientists and the public. If Mr. Griffin is forced to scale these back, then I believe that Congress and the American public will begin to see NASA as a “one-trick pony.” It will be putting the crown jewels of unmanned space science in danger of entering the “Horse Latitudes” where they lingered in the 1980s and early 1990s.
I urge the entire space community to back the Dec. 9, 2005, letter sent to [the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB)] by 36 members of the House of Representatives, urging that NASA be provided with the funds necessary to accomplish its missions. We need to point out that the VSE was not a hold-over from a previous administration. The VSE was proposed by this president. It is ironic to see this grand, peaceful endeavor being endangered by the very administration that started it on its way.
In addition, since that letter was sent, both h ouses of Congress have passed the NASA Authorization conference report. This measure supports increasing NASA’s funding during the next couple of fiscal years by amounts sufficient for NASA to successfully transition from the shuttle/ space station paradigm to the new paradigm of the VSE.
If this president’s OMB cannot be convinced to fully support an initiative begun by this president, then what hope do we have that it will survive the next two or three occupants of the White House? This Congress has been convinced of the importance of exploration and science. The American people also support the new vision. It is now time for this administration to accept that support and move ahead, with gusto, to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
Philip Horzempa, Syracuse, New York