Tuesday, February 2, 2010

NASA´s new budget

Yesterday, February 1st, the new budget for NASA was revealed by President Obama.

The new budget
The major new items are:

  • The Constellation program, which aimed at putting astronauts back on the moon by 2020, got axed due to lack of progress and the program being over its budget.
  • $1.2 billion more funding per year, on average, over the next 5 years (a total of $6 billion dollars in extra funding).
  • $3.2 billion dollars is to be used for 'science research grants and dozens of missions and telescopes studying the planets and stars – including new missions such as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, missions to study the Moon, and two Mars exploration missions' (this is awesome, we get to see more exploration missions to the planets, with probes and rovers).

Some of the smaller details are
  • $1.2 billion is supposed to be used for 'transformative research in exploration technology that will involve NASA, private industry, and academia, sparking spin-off technologies and potentially entire new industries' (ie. privatizing some parts of the space program).
  • $500 million to provide private astronaut transportation to the ISS.
  • $183 million to extend the life of the ISS.
  • $14 million ($420 million over five years) for a mission to the Sun, flying through its outer atmosphere to better understand how it is heated and how it ejects the stream of charged particles known as the solar wind (a small project, but cool nonetheless, so I decided to include it here).
  • $600 million earmarked for the last five shuttle missions to the ISS.

You can see NASA's budget documents, plans and reports her.

My take on the budget
On the whole, I'm fine with the new budget. More money to NASA is good and with more than $3 billion to be used for real space science we are going to see a lot of cool missions.
The cancellation of the Constellation program is okay. It would have been cool to go the moon by 2020, but manned travel to the Moon is difficult and expensive (the Apollo program costed more than $150 billion when adjusted for inflation) and the gains are very limited, compared to a probe and rover program to all the other planets and launching more space telescopes. Even the Sun gets a cool mission. We can go to the Moon some other time.

Besides, there are private companies, such as SpaceX, working on creating new shuttles for space transportation (not Moon missions or travel to other planets, but transportation into Low Earth Orbit). And once the current shuttle program ends NASA will be behind them, so we might as well spend money cooperating with them to develop cheap and efficient space transportation.

As stated here on Universe Today, with the new budget 'We've lost the Moon. But have we gained the solar system'. I couldn't agree more.

You can read Phil Plaits take on the new budget here and I must say I agree with him on most accounts. Improving the scientific capabilities of the ISS is a good thing (although $183 million is not a lot) and the Constellation program had lost its vision (although we lack a new Obama project with a similar vision, where is that?).  He also mentions the private companies working on creating new space shuttles.
Also read his post 'Give space a chance', 'cause he's right. We shouldn't let less than great news turn into a story about NASA being doomed. Especially now that their mission has changed.

Buzz Aldrin (yes, THAT Buzz Aldrin) has written a statement, endorsing the new direction of NASA and the new budget by the President. Something to think about.