House appropriators on the Science, State, Justice and Commerce Subcommittee
would like to see NASA get more money for FY 2007 than the Administration's
request, and are worried that developing nations might surpass the U.S.
in space exploration capabilities. At a March 30 hearing, appropriators
also raised questions about the need to cancel or defer some space and
Earth science missions in order to fulfill international commitments
to complete the space station, keep the shuttle flying until its retirement,
and start development of its replacement, but they did not question
that NASA should be doing all these things.
NASA's plan to limit the growth in space and Earth science to 1.5 percent
in FY 2007 and one percent for the five years thereafter, thus reducing
the projected expenditures in those areas by $3.1 billion through FY
2010, has caused consternation among the science community and many
Members of Congress (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/034.html).
Both Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Ranking Minority Member
Alan Mollohan (D-WV) pointed out the proposed reductions to science
and aeronautics research in their opening statements. "This is
a very long list," Mollohan pointed out, of "cancelled, cancelled,
delayed, cancelled" science programs that would have "a very
big impact." NASA Administrator Michael Griffin explained that
NASA's plans will require sacrifices "throughout the space community"
over the next five years. He said that the FY 2007 request puts priority
on keeping the U.S. commitment to complete the space station, preparing
for the retirement of the shuttle and transition of NASA's workforce
from shuttle to Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), and developing an architecture
for human return to the Moon. "Regrettably," he said, this
will curtail the rate of growth in NASA science programs, and force
the delay or deferral of several missions.
Over the past several years, Griffin said, "we...have created an
irrational exuberance" in expectations of science funding, allowing
the space science community to believe that 5-7 percent growth year
after year could continually be accommodated within "topline"
growth of 2-3 percent for NASA as a whole. Acknowledging concerns from
the science community that Research and Analysis (R&A) funding,
which supports university researchers, may have been cut too drastically,
Griffin said that NASA would ask its scientific advisory committees
to conduct a review of the science priorities in early May, and "we
will listen." However, he cautioned the committee that NASA's budget
request "represents a careful balancing act," and strongly
urged them to resist the temptation to "rob Peter to pay Paul"
by shifting funds from the CEV and human exploration to NASA science
missions. He argued that the gap in U.S. human access to space between
the shuttle's retirement and operation of the CEV would be "far
more damaging to the space program overall" than some loss of space
and Earth science expertise. Human space flight capabilities, he said,
are part of what "define a nation as a superpower."
Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) proposed that support for NASA's budget and mission
would be far more widespread if the general public understood the progress
that other nations, particularly developing nations, have made in spaceflight
capabilities. "I think the Congress and the American people are
ignorant...almost entirely" of how far along other countries are,
he said. This theme was picked up by other committee members. Rep. Dave
Weldon (R-FL) noted that between 2010 and 2014, the U.S. might have
to rely on Russian Soyuz vehicles to sustain the space station, while
Rep. Bud Cramer (D-AL) mentioned that the Chinese hope to reach the
Moon by 2017, earlier than current U.S. plans to return humans to the
lunar surface. In response to a suggestion by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX)
to hold a hearing to publicize this topic, Wolf declared that it was
a good idea. "I have a concern at what I'm hearing here today,"
said Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY). He cautioned that a space race with China
could be "a dangerous road to take because it may not lead us where
we want to go."
Several members questioned why NASA was not included as a component
of the President's American Competitiveness Initiative. Griffin responded
that the initiative focused funding on research areas that would have
a short-term impact on competitiveness, while NASA science produced
practical results on generational time scales, "if at all."
Wolf also asked about science education efforts at NASA, and how they
were coordinated with other federal science education programs. Griffin
replied that NASA is "revamping our education program from top
to bottom," with about $160 million budgeted directly for education,
and a similar amount spent within its mission directorates. Wolf suggested
a meeting of all federal agencies with K-12 science education programs
for coordination purposes, but when reminded that the House Science
Committee was holding a hearing on that topic at that time, he said,
"maybe that's the best place to do it because I know [Science Committee
Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY)] cares."
Many members vowed to try to increase NASA's budget for fiscal year
2007. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) asked how much additional funding NASA
would need to accomplish the top science priorities of the National
Academy of Sciences' decadal surveys. Griffin, defending the President's
request, replied that NASA funding "is adequate to do those priorities...just
not adequate to do them all at once." Wolf said, "I would
like to see if we could find the money somewhere in our budget"
to restore the projected growth in science and still maintain progress
on the exploration initiative. He reiterated that the idea of a hearing
on other countries' progress in space was "really important,"
saying "this really could be a Sputnik moment" that could
"electrify" the public.