Climate Science, Asteroid Detection Big Winners in NASA Budget
NASA will have to live with a stagnant budget—again. The $18.7 billion proposed by the Administration is the same amount as
2010 and 2011, and science funding would continue to hover at about $5 billion. But in the details are significant winners and losers. Earth science
would grow from $1.439 billion to $1.797 billion in 2012, though House of Representatives Republicans are sure to attack a program focused on
understanding global change. Meanwhile, Mars exploration—which this year stands at $438 million—would spike at $602 million next year, but plummet to
less than half that amount by 2016. Funds for near-Earth object observations would quadruple to $20.4 million. And NASA Chief Financial Officer
Elizabeth Robinson said the agency will kill a dark-energy mission in the hope that it can collaborate more cheaply with the European Space Agency. She
added that details on how the agency will fund a massive cost overrun in the James Webb Space Telescope won't be ready until this summer.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden acknowledged that "tough choices had to be made," adding that these are "really difficult fiscal times."
The priority in such times, he said, was safe and efficient transportation of crew and equipment into low earth orbit. The budget for human exploration
was kept at $2.81 billion to fund development of a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle to carry humans and a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle to launch it. An enhanced
reliance on commercial industry to provide these vehicles for human spaceflight, Bolden said, was "the frugal thing for us to do and the prudent thing
for us to do. … We can't do everything."
Pressed on human landings on Mars and asteroids, Bolden said it was too early to give definitive dates. Perhaps Mars in the 2030s and asteroids by
2025, but "if we can do things better, some of those dates may accelerate. We're going to have to make small steps."
See our complete coverage of Budget 2012.