Status Report

AIP FYI #53: Chairman Boehlert’s Views on NASA Policy and Budget

By SpaceRef Editor
April 27, 2004
Filed under , ,

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) addressed
the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) last
week, and as is usually the case, spoke unambiguously about NASA
science policy and funding issues. Selections from his speech

PRESIDENT’S VISION OF THE SPACE PROGRAM: “Let me start by saying, as
I often have, that the President deserves enormous credit for doing
what many of us had been calling for – laying out a clear vision for
the space program, making tough choices, and providing a plan that
does not rely on Apollo-like spikes in spending.”

President’s proposal ought to be the blueprint for how we move
forward. But what do I mean by ‘in its broad outlines’? I mean
that the U.S. should have an ongoing human space flight program. I
mean that the long-term goal of our human space flight program ought
to be going to Mars and beyond. I mean that our intermediate goal
ought to be returning to the moon. I mean that to finance such a
venture – among other reasons – we need to stop flying the Space
Shuttle by a date certain – the sooner, the better.”

OUTLOOK IN CONGRESS: “Now that [the above described program] is
indeed a broad outline, and these points may even seem unarguable to
some of you. But, believe me, they are open to debate among the
public and in the Congress. In fact, I have no idea of how the
Congress would vote right now on any of the notions I just
mentioned, although I imagine that most Members would be reluctant
to simply walk away from the human space flight program.”

RETURNING TO THE MOON: “Let’s look, for example, at returning to the
moon, which the President has proposed accomplishing between 2015
and 2020. I don’t have much doubt that we have the technological
capability to do that. After all, with a lot less experience and
technical know-how, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon less than nine
years after President Kennedy announced the goal of getting there by
1970. So the issue isn’t technology, per se; it’s resources. The
President has quite properly announced that he is not going to seek
Apollo-like funding, but even the requests he has put forward raise

OVERALL FUNDING OUTLOOK: “As part of the exploration initiative, the
President has proposed increasing the NASA budget by 5.6 percent in
the next fiscal year, to about $16.2 billion. I just can’t imagine
that that’s going to happen, and I don’t think it should. Total
federal non-security, domestic discretionary spending in fiscal 2005
is likely to increase by less than half a percent. Congress may
even freeze spending, as the House voted to do in its Budget
Resolution. In such a budget, should NASA receive almost a 6
percent increase? Is it the highest domestic spending priority? I
don’t think so, and I doubt my colleagues will either. NASA is in
an appropriations bill in which it competes for funds against
veterans programs, against housing programs, against environmental
programs and against basic science and education programs – almost
all of which are high priorities in my book. As Science Committee
chairman, I’m especially concerned that we do right by the National
Science Foundation, which Congress has said, in statute, ought to be
increasing by 15 percent a year. I would note that a healthy NSF is
the key to carrying out the education agenda you call for in your
policy document. Moreover, Congress isn’t likely to even take up
the NASA [VA/HUD] spending bill until after Election Day. (I’m not
proud of that, but it’s reality.) That means that for at least a
month, and potentially for several months, NASA will be funded by a
continuing resolution. That, in turn, means that for some portion
of next year, NASA will be flat-funded and will not be allowed to
start new initiatives. That alone could delay aspects of the
exploration initiative.”

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: “And my funding concerns are not limited to
those raised by the funding competition between NASA and other
agencies. The President’s proposal also raises tough questions
about the funding balance within NASA. . . . The budget proposes to
fund the exploration initiative, in part, by cutting Earth Science
programs, eliminating some Space Science projects, and flat funding
aeronautics . . . . We may indeed have to rethink some other
programs to fund the exploration initiative, but I’m concerned that
the proposed cuts may go too far. The Earth Science cuts, for
example, may hinder climate change research, itself an
Administration research priority. Do I think that it’s more
important to know more about the Earth than it is to know more about
Mars? I do, and I don’t think it’s a close question. And knowing
more about the Earth will take plenty of aerospace know-how.”

SCHEDULE: “My point is that the pace at which we move ahead probably
will have to be slower than what the President proposed because
funds are likely to be more limited than he assumed. How much
slower? Slow enough to delay a return to the moon beyond 2020?
It’s too soon to know that. My staff is continuing to pour through
the proposed budget to see how we might put together a NASA budget
for fiscal 2005 that would be affordable, that would not cut
valuable programs excessively, and that would allow work to get
started on programs critical to the exploration initiative. And we
will go through this process with a keen awareness that stretching
out programs too much can make them more expensive and less
effective in the end. . . . I should say that there are reasons
beyond financial austerity to move slowly right now. There are lots
of questions about the proposed initiative that NASA cannot answer
yet – pretty fundamental ones, like what kind of launch system the
Crew Exploration Vehicle and cargo vehicles might use. Congress
should get more answers before ramping up the new program too
steeply. Even some top NASA officials have pointed out that NASA’s
own planning for the initiative is still in its very early stages –
in part, because only a handful of people at NASA really knew what
the exploration initiative would entail before the President’s
January speech. I don’t think it’s wrong for Congress to move
slowly while NASA itself is sorting out how it wants to move ahead –
even as we acknowledge that NASA needs some money just to do that
sorting out.”

SPACE STATION: “Can the Station be completed by 2010, as the
President’s proposal assumes? That seems like a stretch. As we all
know, the Shuttle now is not scheduled to resume flight until at
least next March. (That’s a decision I applaud, by the way.
Administrator O’Keefe has kept his word that safety and safety alone
will determine when the Shuttle launches again.) That’s already a
delay in the schedule on which the 2010 date was developed. What’s
the schedule beyond that? NASA hasn’t decided yet. But NASA has
indicated that the assumption is that five flights will go up each
year. That’s more than Members of the Columbia Accident
Investigation Board have said is prudent; some of them have
suggested a limit of four with existing resources. And, of course,
the schedule assumes that every flight will go off without a hitch –
hardly our most recent experience. So what’s going to happen in the
not unlikely event that Station completion is delayed? There are
also questions about the Station itself. The President wisely has
proposed scrapping the existing research agenda for the Station and
developing a new agenda focused on biological questions that we need
to solve to keep astronauts in space for long periods of time. What
will that agenda be? NASA is just starting to develop it. How much
will it cost? Well, there’s a number in the budget, but it’s hard
to cost out a program that doesn’t even exist as an idea yet. Will
it conduct research that can only be done in space? Will the public
or the astronauts themselves object to research in which astronauts
are, in effect, being used as human guinea pigs? Will the Space
Station remain in operation long enough to draw conclusions from
whatever research agenda is assembled? So, there are lots of
questions. I would note that Senator [Sam] Brownback [R-KS] and
Congressman [Dana] Rohrabacher [R-CA] – the chairmen respectively of
the Senate and House space subcommittees – have begun raising
interesting questions about what would happen if we discontinued the
Shuttle more rapidly. I don’t know the answer to that – and I’m
skeptical of plans that just assume private sector alternatives will
materialize – but it’s a question worth asking.”

NASA AUTHORIZATION BILL: “. . . we ought to have a NASA
reauthorization bill that will lay out the broad blueprint of how
the human space flight program should move ahead. An authorization
bill will enable Congress to have the broad debate you [AIAA] call
for to ‘come to a clear agreement on the goals of the nation’s civil
space program.’ An authorization bill should also include specific
milestones that NASA will have to clear as it moves forward to
ensure that Congress can continue to review each step of the program
before too much money is invested to turn back. Coming up with such
a bill and moving it through the Congress will not be easy, but we
are committed to pursuing it. I hope we will be able to introduce a
bill around July 4th and move it through the House in September. We
are in close contact with our Senate counterparts, and Senators
[John] McCain [R-AZ] and Brownback hope to introduce their
authorization bill pretty soon. I hope the authorization process
will give a green light – or at least an amber light – to the space
exploration initiative, broadly defined.”

APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: “. . . we’ll work with the Appropriations
Committee to come up with a budget for next year, and, as I’ve
already indicated, that’s likely to differ from what the President’s
requested – although it should still be consistent with moving ahead
with a lunar program over time.”

COMMUNICATING WITH CONGRESS: “I should note that none of this will
work out very well without the active involvement of people like
you. Members of Congress need to hear from their constituents, and
especially from informed constituents like all of you, as they sort
out the thorny questions and uncomfortable choices that reviewing
the President’s proposal will entail. I think it’s fair to say that
most Members of Congress have not begun to wrestle with these
questions, or even to take the space initiative seriously, or to
ponder what alternatives there are to the President’s proposal – and
in broad terms there aren’t a lot of palatable alternatives if you
want to continue the human space flight program.”

Richard M. Jones

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.