NASA Asteroid, Mars Missions to Be Impacted by Sequestration

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According to USA Today, NASA officials have warned the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space that if the sequestration cuts for NASA continue into fiscal year 2014, a number of long-term deep space exploration projects will be put at risk for delay.

Asteroid, Mars missions threatened

USA Today reports that William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, human exploration and operations, warned the Senate panel, chaired by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., that should sequestration continue past the current fiscal year, the schedules for an asteroid retrieval mission slated for 2019-2021 and a human Mars expedition envisioned for the 2030s would be at risk. Even though sequestration has trimmed hundreds of millions of dollars from NASA's budget, no agreement has been reached among members of Congress to deal with the matter. Current plans for these and other missions at NASA have been made under the assumption that Congress would find a way to deal with sequestration. Nelson expressed frustration with the effects of sequestration, but offered no solutions.

NASA commercial crew program already affected

A post in the Space Politics blog relates warnings by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden that should the sequestration linger into the summer, the commercial crew program could grind to a halt. The commercial crew program is designed to develop NASA-financed but commercially operated spacecraft to send crews to and from low-Earth orbit, including the International Space Station. The first flights of such vehicles, now under development by SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada, are envisioned to take place toward the end of 2017. Bolden warns that if sequestration continues, "Overall availability of commercial crew transportation services would be significantly delayed, thereby extending our reliance on foreign providers for crew transportation to the International Space Station." Currently, in the wake of the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, NASA astronauts are obliged to hitch rides on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to access the ISS.

NASA's Bolden warns about the effects of sequestration reports that Bolden, at an address at a breakfast meeting in Washington sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County and its partners, warned that if left unchecked the effects of sequestration could be devastating for the space agency. He noted that the sequestration plan, originally designed to motivate Congress to deal with the fiscal crisis, is to last 10 years if left unchecked. NASA, he warned, could be downsized to a $15 billion a year agency from the around $17 billion it now spends.

Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo, The Last Moonwalker, and Dreams of Barry's Stepfather. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.

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