U.S. Deficit Task Force Targets NASA Program

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The United States could save as much as $1.2 billion by eliminating a NASA program designed to foster development of commercial human spaceflight capabilities, according to a White House-chartered commission tasked with identifying ways to reduce the U.S. federal deficit.

In a report issued Nov. 10, the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform identified some $200 billion in savings in 2015 through a combination of cuts to defense and discretionary spending, including a proposal to scrap U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan to spend $6 billion through 2015 on NASA’s commercial spaceflight program.

“This subsidy to the private sector is costly, and while commercial spaceflight is a worthy goal, it is unclear why the federal government should be subsidizing the training of the potential crews of such flights,” the Nov. 10 proposal states. “Eliminating this program would save $1.2 billion in 2015.”

Co-chaired by former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Erskine Bowles, chief of staff to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the commission has 18 members, most of whom are lawmakers chosen by U.S. House and Senate leaders. Among its six House members are three Republican congressmen who voted against NASA authorizing legislation Obama signed into law Oct. 11 that calls for spending up to $1.3 billion on commercial crew initiatives over the next three years.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an advocacy group here, said the commission’s proposal would have disastrous consequences for NASA and the nation.

“Commercial Crew now represents the primary means of transporting U.S. astronauts to orbit following retirement of the Space Shuttle,” Brett Alexander, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said in a Nov. 10 news release. “Commercial Crew will in fact result in substantial cost savings to the U.S. taxpayer. Eliminating Commercial Crew would result in total reliance on Russia to get to the Space Station and result in the loss of thousands of high-tech jobs here in the United States.”

Alexander, a former U.S. government space policymaker, said Obama’s plan to help the private sector develop crew taxis capable of ferrying astronauts to and from the international space station is the “fastest way to reduce the gap” in domestic human spaceflight following retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet next year.

He also said the deficit commission “appears to misunderstand the very nature of the Commercial Crew Program. Rather than being ‘a subsidy for the private sector,’ the Commercial Crew program is fulfilling an essential national need by developing the next U.S. spacecraft to take astronauts to the Space Station, while stimulating markets beyond government as well.”