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NASA Gets Increased Funding to Explore the Moon, Mars

08 February, 2005

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NASA won a significant 2006 budget increase yesterday to $16.5 billion to fund President Bush's initiative to pursue human exploration of the moon and Mars in 2006, but killed plans to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

The NASA figures are part of a national science and technology budget that is generally flat, and in many respects smaller, than that of the current year. The departments of Energy and Defense, major drivers of federal research, saw research cuts.

"Taken together, the inadequate FY06 investments in research proposed by the administration would erode the research and innovative capacity of our nation," said Nils Hasselmo, president of the Association of American Universities, a group of 62 public and private research universities.

Bush "really believes that science is important," said John H. Marburger III, the president's science adviser and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Although the budget is "austere," he said, "we are not going backward. We are not going down."

Although NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe acknowledged that science funding had declined for most agencies during "these challenging times," the "specific policy direction set by the president" for NASA had kept it from feeling the budget ax.

NASA's $16.5 billion budget request was 2.4 percent higher than 2005's final appropriation of $16.1 billion. "The president's endorsement is unabated," O'Keefe told reporters at a NASA headquarters budget briefing.

A little over a year ago, Bush announced a "Vision for Space Exploration" to return to the moon by 2020 and eventually travel to Mars. NASA plans to achieve these objectives in a series of "spirals," developing technologies to be used first at the international space station, then modified for subsequent expeditions.

NASA designated $753 million for development of the "crew exploration vehicle," the next-generation spaceship targeted to replace the space shuttle by 2014. The vehicle is the first major piece of hardware targeted for development under Bush's plan.

Despite NASA's reordered priorities, however, the administration allotted $6.8 billion for shuttle operations in 2006, the biggest single chunk of funding in the budget request. The shuttle is scheduled to resume operations in May or June after being grounded for two years after the Columbia disaster.

O'Keefe said difficulties in preparing the shuttle for flight made it too risky to use the orbiter in a mission to service Hubble. He also said skepticism expressed in a recent National Academy of Sciences study made it "incredibly difficult" for NASA to continue plans for a robotic servicing mission.

As a result, he said, NASA reduced Hubble funding to $93 million for 2006, with most of that to be invested in a mission to rendezvous with the telescope and steer it safely into the ocean when its gyroscopes give out in a few years.

O'Keefe backed away from his initial decision a year ago to cancel a servicing mission after a prolonged public outcry, and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), whose state hosts the institutions that service the telescope and plan its science agenda, promised to "really fight" for $250 million for Hubble.

"The Bush administration has wanted to kill Hubble for two years," Mikulski said in a telephone interview. "Everyone in the scientific world says this is the greatest invention in astronomy since Galileo's telescope."

Hubble-like troubles were echoed elsewhere in the federal science budget. Energy Department basic and applied research dropped from $5.7 billion in 2005 to $5.6 billion, and Defense Department basic and applied research dropped from $6.4 billion in 2005 to $5.5 billion.

Although the National Science Foundation won a 2.4 percent increase to $5.6 billion, inflation and cost-shifting likely will result in fewer dollars to support research than in 2005. A new administration policy, for instance, requires NSF to pay tens of millions of dollars for Coast Guard ice breakers that assist in polar research.

NSF Director Arden L. Bement Jr. said his agency was billions of dollars behind in a congressionally authorized effort to double its budget. "I think we're going to get more and more behind before we get back on track," he said.


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