The 2005 NASA budget and policy shuffle
by Taylor Dinerman
|Those who oppose the Vision will not come right out and say so, partly because some of them have been pushing for such a plan for a long time and oppose this one either on the details or just because it was Bush who presented it.|
Whatever their motivations, the opponents have, it seems, agreed on a strategy of subjecting the Vision to the ultimate Washington sentence of death by a thousand cuts. Defending the Vision, and the President’s budget, was acting NASA administrator Fred Gregory, who looks like he is going to be running the NASA show for some time to come, at least, according to the vibes being given off on Capitol Hill and at NASA headquarters. In his written testimony, he highlighted the seven priorities “needed to proceed with the transformation of America’s civil space program.”
These priorities are pretty easy to understand. They flow from the basic goals of the exploration vision and from the nature of NASA’s bureaucracy. However, number six, the shuttle transition, either is code for dumping the Iran Non-Proliferation Act (INA) and buying future Soyuz—and, possibly, Progress flights—from the Russians at commercial prices or, just maybe, NASA knows something about commercially-available “crew services” that has escaped the attention of the rest of us. If this priority involved just sending cargo to the ISS, it would simply be a follow-up to the Alternative Access to Station program that has been on the “two steps forward, one step back” track at NASA for at least the last three years.
While the fight over Hubble is going to make the most noise, it will probably be utterly useless since, in the end, as one NASA official put it, “Congress is not going to make a safety call.” The biggest dilemma the agency faces is the INA. When President Bush meets Vladimir Putin this week, the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons will be the number one subject. Russia is probably making billions selling supposedly civilian nuclear technology to Iran. They believe that any Iranian use of nuclear weapons will be aimed either at the US or Israel. The idea that the mullahs may someday challenge Russia for dominance in the Caucasus, or in Central Asia, is something that the leadership in Moscow would rather not think about.
For NASA, and for the ISS partnership, the question of how to pay for Soyuz lifeboats and Progress resupply missions to the ISS after 2006 is urgent and, publicly at least, unresolved. If the US does not repeal the INA and if Russia does not stop what it is doing in Iran, either the Europeans and the Japanese will have to step in and pay the Russians to fly these missions, or the Russians will have to find a way to pay themselves, or the whole ISS partnership will collapse with serious negative long-term implications for international space cooperation.
|If the President gets most of what he wants for CEV, the Vision will probably be secure for the rest of his term, and will probably survive into the next GOP administration—if there is one.|
These questions were only lightly touched on during the February 17th hearing. Some Congressmen made statements, almost in passing, about the importance of non-proliferation policy, but the Hubble question, and the possibility of NASA closing a center, seemed much more important to them. Congressman Bart Gordon (D-TN), the ranking Democrat, brought up the Soyuz problem along with the questions of what will happen to the now-deferred Juipter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) mission, as well as why the proposed CEV consortia include European aerospace companies.
This year’s NASA budget debate promises to be a bit more interesting than usual. If the President gets most of what he wants for CEV, the Vision will probably be secure for the rest of his term, and will probably survive into the next GOP administration—if there is one. Over the next six or seven months, NASA will need to provide some clear answers to Congressman Gordon’s question, and to the international partners who are still wondering what the US intends to do with the ISS after 2014.
The agency is now, almost wholly, focused on returning the shuttle to flight. Once they have successfully flown the next two or three missions, NASA will have to begin some difficult long-term strategic planning. It will also have to rethink the way it deals with Congress. The men and women who get elected to the national legislature are, in the vast majority, neither dumb nor corrupt. It is time to approach them as partners in planning, rather than as targets to be lobbied and cajoled.