NASA’s New Vision & Funding Promises?

(Originally posted on February 4, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society Blog.)
Here is what I see happening assuming Congress does not fight the President’s vision.  NASA will start implementing this change as soon as Congress allows the FY2010 funds to be redirected.  In December, Congress slipped into their appropriations bill that Congress had to approve the cancellation of the Constellation program.  Congress will fund FY2011 and maybe even FY2012 as Obama requests.  But after that they will begin to decrease funding just like they have for every NASA program ever conducted and/or canceled. Why do you always hear that a Government program is behind schedule and over budget?  There is a simple answer for that.  Because Congress only approves and releases funds on a yearly basis and they typically cut funds from a program as the years go by.  It happened to Apollo (change in direction), Shuttle, ISS (how many times did Congress try to kill it), X-33/X-34, Orbital Space Plane, shall I go on?
Words from the OMB Budget Fact Sheet states the following: “NASA’s Constellation program – based largely on existing technologies – was based on a vision of returning astronauts back to the Moon by 2020. However, the program was over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation due to a failure to invest in critical new technologies.”  To anyone outside the space agency these sound like serious concerns and wow that program should be canceled.  But, let’s look at the reality of the situation.  The Constellation Program was built to former NASA Administrator’s Mike Griffin’s desires.  Was it optimal.  No.  Was it going to work.  Yes.  Did Constellation get funded per the original baseline schedule and funding that was negotiated.  No.  So what happens when Congress doesn’t fund a program?  Guess what, it gets behind schedule and over budget.  Gee, imagine that. Constellation was based on existing technologies because the last time this country tried to build a space craft built based on low Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) the problems were so great and would take much more money to resolve that the X-33/X-34 programs were canceled.

NASA’s real problem is that its funding is done on an annual basis and is subject to the whims of congress.  This is how our government agencies work.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if NASA was given a long-term vision 10, 20, 50 years and funding was baselined and guaranteed for five years?  Imagine the programs that could be executed within budget and perhaps even saving some money.  Imagine the R&D that could be invested in.

*Comments have been ported over.


4 responses to “NASA’s New Vision & Funding Promises?

  1. With respect Cx was not under funded, certain individuals thought that Congress would bail them out of a spending spree that gutted NASA’s other programs. Cx should have had a wakeup call when SSME restart problem emerged… it was downhill from then on. Ares operational by 2017? Moon Landings in 2028?? It was a mercy killing. It seems to this Space Cadet that governmental “checks and balances” mean that any long term project is doomed from the start. One good reason to Internationalise the Program! Hopefully during the interregnum: Charlie will be able to clean house and Congress will abandon Space Pork; or should that be “Pigs in Spa-a-ace!”

    “…all the Universe or nothing.” Oswald Cabal [“Shape of Things to Come” U.K. 1936 (Dir. William Cameron Menzies)]


  2. Well said, @txflygirl. You are absolutely right and this fickleness has hurt the entire aerospace industry for years. The industry is required to produce long range plans which Congress totally ignores and as result THEY, not the industry invoke the losses, over budget problems and program delays.

    My last years in the aero and space world was involved in negotiating contracts with DoD which in turn had to obey Congress. I saw these sorry situations every day.


  3. brobof- with respect, Constellation was underfunded. When the baseline was based on x for year 1, y for year 2, etc and Congress gave z-zprime in the out years — then planned work had to be deferred to the right. How is that not underfunded?

    With regards to being part of an international program I do agree with you that it is very important to our (the globe’s) future in space and that was a major flaw of the Vision for Space Exploration.


  4. Quite! But Congress was funding the VSE not ESAS! And when Bush failed to “propose”, Congress naturally failed to dispose. Especially after the GAO weighed in:
    The VSE should have produced a modest Capsule. Or, better still, an HL -XX mini- shuttle on top of an equally modest EELV and then a sustainable architecture on the spare change.
    (I have always likes the OASIS architecture:… and I suggested as such to the Augustine Commission…)
    But NASA in its saurian complacency went for “Apollo on Steroids.” Alea jacta est!
    However the DTAL study by ULA, links to various papers (PDFs) from here:
    Looks promising. With a European long term Hab Module; Russian Hypergol Lander and a cheap Chinese Taxi service we ( a global we) might be back on the Moon sooner than “we” thought.
    However you are absolutely right. Space is still seen by our (global) political class as a vanity project; instead of its NECESSITY to the long term survival of our species. The sooner Space Politics are abstracted to an international body with a long term view and long term sustainable planning the better. IMHO.