NASA Officials Warn of Tight Budgets Ahead

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PASADENA, Calif. — Tight budgets will mean NASA must make its mission relevant to the American public, inspiring young people to enter technical and scientific fields and delivering new capabilities that grapple with climate change and assist with natural disasters around the globe, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said Sept. 16. Although she mentioned space exploration in passing, Garver studiously avoided discussion of the agency’s post-space shuttle manned spaceflight plans during a speech at the Space American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics 2009 conference here.

Instead, Garver urged NASA to evolve and become more open to cooperative teaming arrangements with the commercial sector and international partners.

“I know there are those that are skeptical that NASA can change in such substantial ways that we may be asked to do,” said Garver, who served as a member of U.S. President Barack Obama’s presidential transition team. She noted that the agency has undergone radical transformation in the past, from competing with the Russian space program in the 1960s and 1970s to partnering with them on the international space station beginning in the 1990s. Garver joined a handful of fellow NASA officials who indicated the agency’s budget is not likely to grow under Obama, who scaled back funding for the agency’s manned spaceflight programs in his 2010 budget submission to lawmakers in May, at the same time he chartered a blue-ribbon commission to review the future of U.S. human space exploration and present alternatives to NASA’s Moon-focused Constellation program. The White House is currently mulling the options put forth by the panel, led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norman Augustine.

“Budgets were tight when I was here in the 90s, but they’re even tighter today,” said Garver, who served as associate administrator of NASA policy and plans under the administration of President Bill Clinton. “Our budget has to compete with not only other scientific programs but all government service. To earn our trust from taxpayers we have to help create a better future through programs aligned with both the short-term and long-term national interest.”

Dave Radzanowski, NASA deputy associate administrator for program integration for the Space Operations Mission Directorate, said earlier in the day that in terms of buying power, the agency’s budget has been constant for the past 15 years, and that is not likely to change.

“I really don’t expect there to be significant increases in NASA’s budgets over the next 10 years,” Radzanowski said. “A sustained increase I think will be difficult. I’ve been wrong before. I hope in this case I am wrong again. We need to think about what it means to potentially be operating under a flat budget.”