Thursday, August 25, 2005

True Bush Space Plan: Destroy NASA

After all, every time they launch the shuttle, pictures come back showing that the earth is round, which is deeply scary to the legions of fundies who voted for Dear Leader. Even Keith Cowing at NASA Watch, who has penned one and is penning another screed supporting Dubya's "Vision" is starting to wake up:

Multiple sources point to a delay in the rollout of Mike Griffin's new exploration architecture. It won't be rolled out in early September. It would seem that multiple offices in the executive branch simply do not agree on key elements of what Griffin wants to do - and have serious problems with certain aspects - finances being the most important point of disagreement.

An anonymous NASA engineer who wrote to NASA Watch had this to say, and it has the ring of truth:

"In the June Midterm Briefing from the so-called "60 Day Study" -- now pushing 120 days -- there is a statement of projected budget shortfalls. Insofar as I can recall, the briefing expressed the opinion that to fly the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) in 2010 or 2011, NASA will need about another $9 Billion from 2007 to 2010 or 2011.

With the caveat that there is no way yet to evaluate these budget projections (although the learned bias is to assume that such numbers are magically derived), here is what the briefing said:

The briefing appeared to assume that the ENTIRE Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) budget of about $3.6 Billion/year would become available to build CEV over that period. (This approach implies that the ENTIRE Exploration Program, including all other forms of exploration and supporting it such as Life Science and Physical Science from the old Code U would go into replacing the Space Shuttle).

[TIRADE HERE AGAINST FOOLISHLY AND SHORTSIGHTEDLY DESTROYING NASA'S UNIQUE CAPABILITIES THAT -- WHEN WE INEVITABLY NEED THEM -- WILL COST MUCH MORE TO REPLACE THAN TO MAINTAIN].

The shortfall of $9 Billion would come on top of that baseline, indicating a need for approximately $2 Billion more per year. These increased costs should not come as a surprise to anybody. There is no free lunch, even in government programs. Developing, building, testing, and safely operating a new space transportation system will cost the taxpayers about five or six weeks of the war in Iraq on top of the existing (if misdirected) NASA funds.

The more eye-opening budget projection concerned the human return to the moon on a nominal date of 2018. The ESAS assumed a two person crew, two day on the lunar surface sprint mission -- essentially Apollo Redux -- except over thirteen years instead of the eight that the Apollo Program lasted. The briefing stated that from 2012 to 2018, NASA will need at least another $46 Billion (~28 weeks of the Iraq War), which comes close to $7 Billion more per year. $7 B is nearly half of NASA's baseline annual budget of $16 B. How likely is Congress to give NASA or any other federal agency a 50% increase over baseline in 2012? Well, perhaps the USA will be out of Iraq by then . . .

So, these recollections may help to explain the difficulties OMB is facing when they confront the budget reality. Stated simply, NASA cannot safely develop CEV, return to the Moon, "and do the other things before this decade is out" on the cheap."

NASA's valuable aeronautics and life sciences research is already being gutted. No new money is forthcoming, although NASA administrator Mike Griffin is reportedly going to ask for a $5.5 billion add-on to NASA's 2006-2010 budgets. The moon program described above is ludicrous, a gigantic waste of time and money (if you're going to go back, for God's sake spend more than 2 days and send more than 2 guys).

The simple fact is that none of this is going to happen. Bush will use the cost and his endless war as excuses to shut NASA down. He may not do it so baldly as that, but the end result will be the same. After all, there's not enough pork in NASA, evidently, to enrich him and his friends.

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