Space.com reports that NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, at a space-entrepreneurship forum organized by Stanford University's Institute for Economic Policy Research, insisted that the space agency's commitment to space exploration is undiminished.
Garver cites NASA budget compared to other national space agency budgets
Insisting that the United States is still the world leader in space exploration, Garver pointed out that the combined totals of most countries with their own national space programs totaled about three-fourths of NASA's $17.7 billion, according to Space,com. Those other countries included the countries of the European Union, Canada, China, Russia, Japan, and the countries of South America.
NASA budget for exploration
According to NASA, the Obama administration proposed cuts in key elements of the space agency's space exploration programs for Fiscal Year 2013. Exploration Systems Development, which includes the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and the Space Launch System, went from a $3.007 billion estimate in FY2012 to a request for $2.769 in FY 2013. Planetary Science, which includes Mars exploration programs such as the Mars Curiosity rover, went from a $1.501 billion estimate in FY2012 to a request for $1.192 billion for FY2013 with deeper cuts planned in the out years. The Planetary Science cuts resulted in NASA's pulling out of a joint Mars sample return project with the European Space Agency.
National Research Council weighs in
A recent report from the National Research Council suggests that the problems facing NASA's space exploration program revolve around as much leadership and direction as it does funding. According to a summary of the report's findings by the Coalition for Space Exploration, the NRC concluded that funding was insufficient to fulfill President Obama's goal for sending astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and then to Mars in the decade of the 2030s. Furthermore, the report concluded that the humans to an asteroid mission lack support, both inside NASA and with the public at large. The report advised the Obama administration to formulate clearly defined goals for the space agency and well as to address the mismatch between NASA's mandate and the funding it has available to fulfill that mandate. The latter included suggestions to cut costs, increase NASA's budget, seek international and commercial partnerships, and reduce the scale of NASA's missions to fit the available budget.
Public support for increased NASA funding
Ironically, even in a period of immense budget deficits and economic malaise, one poll conducted on behalf of a group called Explore Mars suggests that there is overwhelming public support for increasing NASA's budget. When asked how much of the total federal budget was spent on the space agency, the average response was 2.4 percent with an average deviation of 1.68 percent. When informed that the actual figure was 0.5 percent, 75 percent of the poll's respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the proposal to double NASA's budget to 1 percent of federal spending.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. 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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